TICONDEROGA - Ray Tolar made a vow 66 years ago to honor the sacrifices of his fellow Marines.
That's why today - Feb. 19 - Tolar will raise his American flag and salute.
"For me this is a cause," the Ticonderoga man said. "It's important to remember what freedom costs, to remember those who have died."
Feb. 19, 1945, U.S. Marines landed on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima. The small island, about 10 square miles, was vital to an anticipated American invasion of Japan that would end World War II.
Tolar, then an 18-year-old, and his fellow Marines were told Iwo Jima would be a 3-5 day "warm up" for the invasion of Japan. It turned out to be one of the bloodiest battles in history.
When U.S. Marines finally secured the island on March 16, they had 6,891 dead and more than 18,000 wounded. All but 212 of the 22,000 Japanese defenders on the island died.
Tolar turned down a scholarship to RPI to join the Marines in 1942. By the time he reached Iwo Jima, he was a grizzled veteran having seen combat in the Marshall Islands, Saipan and Tinian.
"None of them were easy," Tolar recalled of the Pacific battles. "And it wasn't just the battles. Once we spent 41 days on a transport (ship). We couldn't use lights at night because the Japanese might see us; we had to stay below. We had bad air, bad food; it was a terrible experience."
But while Tolar, a member of the Marine 4th Division, had seen action, nothing prepared him for Iwo Jima.
"We came in the first wave, on the right flank," he recalled of the Iwo Jima landing. "We expected a lot of fire, but there wasn't."
The Japanese had retreated from the beach and had established defensive positions in caves and bomb craters. Their strategy was to allow the Americans to advance into carefully-devised "kill zones."