Today is Purple Heart Day, a time for Americans to remember and honor the brave men and women who were either wounded on the battlefield or paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.
Ragley resident Mark Sandel, 93, earned a Purple Heart in 1945.
Just eight days before what would be the end of World War II, Sandel found himself in the heat of battle in Okinawa.
"We was fighting, we could see Naha — the end of the island down there," he recalled. "The battle was just about over with — that's where the women and children were. Just about everything was ending at that time, but it was one of the most fierce battles because they (the Japanese) were dug in, been fortified for three years; they were full-prepared, you might say."
That day, Sandel said he pulled a fellow Marine out of the line of fire, signaling for help while bullets flew at both him and the injured comrade.
"Sad part is, I had just dragged a wounded guy over there to where a corpsman could work on him," he said. "Same bullet went through the corpsman's heart and went through my right leg."
Sandel said fellow Marines drove a tank over him to help get him off the front lines.
"I didn't know there was a bottom plate on a tank," he said. "They opened it and drove it over me, pulled me in."
All these years later, he said he remembers that day like it was yesterday and can still feel the bruising rumbling of the tank as the team rushed him to safety, and of being flown out of battle on a Piper Cub. Sandel said he and another injured comrade were strapped to the wings of the airplane and flown to Guam for medical treatment.
"And what was so strange about it, the guy who was flying was completely gray-headed," he said. "It was unusual to see that at that time in your life because everyone was so young."
As a corporal with Marines company G, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, Sandel was only a teenager himself. Like so many of his generation, he signed up after high school — when he turned 18 and could legally do so.
"It was just the patriotic thing to do," he said of enlisting. "Seemed like everybody had such a mindset back then and the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, just made a lot of people so mad they just wanted to do something about it."
Sandel received the Purple Heart for wounds sustained in combat while recovering in Guam, and would go on to finish the remaining six months of his enlistment before being discharged.
When he was discharged from the Marines, Sandel, who at that point was 20, attended college. He met his wife, Billie, shortly thereafter at a bus stop in Many. He would go on to civilian life, working at Citgo for 40 years while living in Westlake with his wife and daughter, then moving to Ragley after retirement, nearly 30 years ago. He has one granddaughter.
"I've had a full life," he said. "I have a wonderful wife ... been married 72 years. I'm 93 years old; not too many left of us at this age."