As the battle for Iwo Jima raged in February 1945, Mark Able, who turned 91 on Monday, spent his 20th birthday on a ship offshore with Marine Corps reinforcements watching — and waiting — for the call to go ashore.
Thankfully, that call for him to enter into the deadly fray never came.
U.S. forces lost more than 6,800 men during that ferocious fight for Iwo Jima.
"They caught hell," he said.
While Tuesday marked the 71st anniversary of the raising of the U.S. flag atop Mt. Suribachi at Iwo Jima, Able's memory of that day is a bit out of focus.
But his recollections of his sharpshooter days in the Marine Corps and the injuries he suffered during World War II, including an enemy bayonet wound to his back and a mortar wound to his cheek, remain sharp and clear.
Able, a Shasta Lake resident who is now residing at Amber Oaks Assisted Living in Redding following a broken hip from a recent fall, is one tough Marine.
But he's also got a sentimental streak a mile wide.
Just ask him about the beloved dogs he has owned over the years.
Up until only a few months ago, Able could be found nearly every morning — without the use of a cane and in remarkably good health — taking long walks with a friend's dog, Skeet, at the Turtle Bay East Open Space Area.
He took daily walks there previously with his now-late Australian shepherd-border collie mix, Three.
And Able vows he will be back on the trail before too long as he continues to recuperate.
A New Mexico native, Able was only a year old when he and his parents moved to California, settling on a farm in tiny Rio Oso in Sutter County.
"Dad was a cowboy, a real cowboy," he said.
But Able decided to enlist in the Marine Corps in 1943 and went on to fight in a number of battles and campaigns, including the battles for Guam and the Marianas Islands.
And, he admits, he wasn't too sure if he would make it back home alive.
"I was a scared kid," he said. "I didn't know what was up."
But he quickly learned.
Able, who has scores of chilling war stories to tell, remembers barely surviving a number of attacks by the Japanese while on patrol deep behind enemy lines.
He still has a tiny piece of shrapnel in his cheek after fending off a sniper and mortar attack on Guam while trying to rescue a badly wounded Marine who later died.
A member of the 3rd Marine Division, Able Company, First Platoon, Able was a part of the first wave of attack to recapture the Japanese-held island of Guam in 1944.
"All you heard was 'corpsman, corpsman,' he said. The call was used to get medical aid for a wounded Marine.
Fighting through its jungles, the division killed more than 5,000 enemy soldiers with nearly 700 Marines dying and another 3,625 wounded by the end of the lengthy battle to retake the island.
Following the later invasion of Iwo Jima, which saw 21,000 strongly entrenched Japanese soldiers killed, Able found himself back in Guam in April 1945 as the began preparing for the expected invasion of Japan.
Again, thankfully, that anticipated battle never happened as Japan surrendered in August 1945 following the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Discharged with the rank of corporal, Able returned to California and worked in a capacity of jobs, including a forklift driver with Diamond Walnut Growers in Stockton, a truck driver, sheetrock worker and finally a certified barber in Shasta Lake.
As a barber, he worked with his now-late brother, Tex, until his retirement years ago.
Divorced with two sons who live in the Modesto area, Able has been a Shasta County resident since the early 1970s and has touched a number of lives.
They include Nancy Kieri, a Shasta Lake resident who has known Able for about 35 years and often accompanied him on his long dog walks with her own dogs.
"He's a great guy, an all-around great guy," she said while visiting him at Amber Oaks on his birthday.
Another close friend is Brian Horton, 46, of Redding, who has known Able for three years and treats him like a cherished family member.
"He's like my grandpa," said Horton, noting his own grandfather was also a Marine Corps veteran.
Able said he firmly believes in the saying that once a Marine, always a Marine, quickly reciting another favorite saying, "If you're not going forward, you're going backward."
"I never met a Marine who ran," he said.