RACINE - Ross Shingledecker never talked about his experiences on the island of Iwo Jima.
Thousands of American soldiers died in the battle to secure the island during World War II. Shingledecker, 87, who now lives in Caledonia, made it out alive. Many of his friends didn't.
For 65 years, he's lived with the memory of searching the cemetery for his friends.
Shingledecker and a small group of people took a few moments Tuesday afternoon to pay their respects and commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima and the raising of the flag on Mt. Surabachi on Feb. 23, 1945.
They stood outside on the sidewalk in front of the Veterans Center, 820 Main St., and watched a reenactment of the flag-raising.
It was a short and solemn ceremony that brought some to tears.
Ask Ross Shingledecker how he feels to be alive and he makes the sign of the cross.
"I'm grateful," he said.
Evelyn Shingledecker, his wife of more than 60 years, is the natural storyteller. The couple met at a USO party in Milwaukee before Ross shipped out with the Marines.
They corresponded for three years. When Ross got back to the states, he showed up at Evelyn's door in Milwaukee. They got married two weeks later.
God had a plan for Ross Shingledecker, said his daughter, Sara Evje of Racine. The Shingledeckers raised 10 children - seven boys and three girls. They have 32 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren, with two more on the way.
Michael Prochaska, like Ross Shingledecker, served in the Pacific. Prochaska is the only Racine native still living who served during the battle of Iwo Jima.
A Marine radio man, Prochaska was part of the second wave of soldiers who landed on the island on Feb. 20, 1945.
There were more than 100 soldiers from Wisconsin who survived the battle, Prochaska said. Most of them are gone.
At 90, Prochaska's mind is still sharp as a tack and he can walk through the history of the battles in the Pacific as he experienced them, the Marshall Islands, Saipan, Tinian, where he was wounded, then on to Iwo Jima.
But he doesn't dwell on the memories. So much good has happened in the 65 years since Iwo Jima - he raised a family, started a successful company, Michael's Signs, in his hometown.
Ask him about surviving Iwo Jima, Prochaska says slowly, "Grateful."
"I never lost the trust in my maker, my God, because, when you're on the battlefield there is nobody with you but him. I never lost my faith," Prochaska said. "But war is hell. Some live and some die."