PARIS — A World War II veteran who fought on Iwo Jima told those at a Veterans Day service Monday that he is grateful to be alive.

Hundreds of veterans, their families, friends and community members gathered at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School to hear Raymond C. Miller, 89, of Paris, describe aspects of the 35-day battle to take the Pacific Island from Japanese control.

Miller was a 21-year-old member of the 5th Marine Division sent to the island in February 1945. He saw Marines hoist then American flag on Mount Suribachi, a scene that became the ultimate symbol of American military valor in World War II.

“I saw the patrol going up the side of the mountain. We all cheered briefly and hid again,” he said. “You could not go out in the field and say what a wonderful day. You would be shot dead.”

Miller, who co-authored “From the Volcano to the Gorge — Getting the Job Done on Iwo Jima,” told the audience that for 35 days he slept in foxholes wearing the same clothes. With his fellow Marines, he attempted to cross the small island where the heat from underground volcanic activity could still be felt several feet below the sand.

He spoke of the enormous loss of U.S. soldiers. His company had 240 men on the first day of battle.

“What was left you could have put on a bus. We lost a lot of men,” he said.

Miller said the battle to take the island was very tough.

“We didn’t see the enemy. I saw very little of the Japs but I shot a few,” he said. The enemy mostly stayed hidden in underground fortresses and tunnels, making it hard for the Americans to find them.

Of the 70,000 men who fought in the battle for the island, less than 1,000 are alive, Miller said.

“I gained more than I gave. I gained a sincere appreciation for being alive,” he said of his experience.

Monday’s tribute to veterans was coordinated by Stone-Smart American Legion Post 82 of Norway and included Color Guards from local American Legions, VFW and Boy Scout troops, along with patriotic music by the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School Band. Two videos were shown, including a dedication to Maine veterans killed in battle during the past two decades.

A ceremony to remember prisoners of war and those missing in action included an arrangement of symbolic items placed prominently in front of the state. It included a small table, an empty chair, a lit candle, an American flag and a rose.

Randy Henley of the Stone-Smart Post 82 served as master of ceremonies and Vern Maxfield provide the opening prayer and benediction.

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