MERCED -- A wall inside Robert Martratt's Merced home is dedicated to the thousands of servicemen killed during the battle of Iwo Jima, one of the fiercest clashes between the United States and Japan during World War II.
The 36-day assault resulted in more than 26,000 American casualties, including about 6,800 dead. Of the 20,000 Japanese defenders, just 1,083 survived, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command's Web site.
Martratt, 86, served during that February 1945 battle. He was 18 years old, serving in the 31st Navy Seabee Battalion, assigned to the 5th Marine Division.
Born in Albany, N.Y., Martratt had tried to enlist in the Navy at age 17, but he wasn't accepted because of respiratory trouble. He was heartbroken. Little did he know, his chance to serve was around the corner.
"When I was 18, I got my name on the draft board and they drafted me anyway," he recalled.
"To me, it was the greatest adventure of my life. And I had my tough times there, and I had tough times after I got out. But it's still the greatest adventure of my life."
Martratt's wall has pictures from his younger days with friends he made during the war, along with photos of dead Japanese soldiers and the historic photo of servicemen raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi.
Martratt said he was in the area when the famous photograph was taken. "I am very proud of these pictures," said Martratt, who was nicknamed "Marty" during the war.
Over the years, Martratt, who's a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Merced, has gone to various schools to speak about his wartime experiences. "I always emphasize the fact that I am not here for me, I am here for (the men who died)," he said.
During his time on Iwo Jima, Martratt and his fellow servicemen destroyed obstacles on the beach and cleared out caves where some Japanese soldiers were hiding.
He still gets tears in his eyes when talking about fellow servicemen who never made it home. "What I have done, compared to those poor kids who never made it out of there, is nothing," he said.
Because of his wartime experiences, Martratt sympathizes with those men and women who have served and are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I feel very hurt for those kids. They are fighting a different war," he said. "I don't believe the government can ever, ever, ever do too much for these young (people) and their families."