There are dates with obvious significance. Feb. 19 is not one of them, but maybe it should be.
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.
When U.S. Marines finally secured the island on March 16, they had 6,891 dead and more than 18,000 wounded. The casualty rate among Marines on Iwo Jima was a staggering 22 percent. All but 212 of the 22,000 Japanese defenders on the island died.
Ray Tolar of Ticonderoga remembers Feb. 19. A Marine, he was there in 1945 and has made a point of marking the anniversary ever since.
“On Memorial Day we raise the flag and salute,” Tolar said. “But we should do more. We should remember the sacrifices of Americans every day.
“Mark Feb. 19 on your calendar and, if you will, give thought to this meager reminder,” he said. “A degree of sorrow will be felt in your heart as well as a tremendous sense of pride for being an American and what it stands for. Semper Fi.
“For me this is a cause,” Tolar said. “It’s important to remember what freedom costs, to remember those who have died.”
After three days of fighting Marines captured Mount Suribachi, the island’s highest point. There Marines raised an American flag, a moment that became famous thanks to a photo shown around the world.
Many assumed the flag raising was a symbol of victory. It was really just the start.
That was 68 years ago. In the years since American men and women have continued to sacrifice.
We received a painful reminder of those sacrifices when Staff Sgt. Venne, age 29, of Port Henry was killed in Paktiya Province, Afghanistan, last November.
Venne and others made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. Other sacrifices are less apparent.
Tom Bain of Putnam, who plans to retire from active Army service this June after 23 years, recently noted the sacrifices of his family.
“The service to my country is not a solo event,” he said. “I have to give great credit to my wife of 20 years, Christine, and my children, Tommy and Caitlin. Without their support, a career in the military would not have been possible. I am eternally grateful for the support they gave me throughout the years and am sorry for the sacrifices and challenges they faced in my many absences.”
A chief warrant officer, Bain has served around the world as a helicopter pilot. There are thousands of men and women like him — and families like his — serving our nation while asking so little in return.
So, Feb. 19 let’s honor Ray Tolar’s request. Let’s take a moment to think about the men, women and families, past and present, who have demonstrated the greatest ideal of our nation — the willingness to sacrifice for others.