SAN DIEGO — A veteran who enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II is reflecting on his military service.

“I was born in Detroit, Michigan. At six years old, I got sick. They told my mother I’m not gonna live, and I’m still here.”

Many years later, Juan Montaño is now 98. The medals on his Navy uniform are witness of a full and heroic life.

“These are my ribbons, all the ribbons I got.”

Montaño was only 17 when he enlisted in the Navy in 1943, ready to fight in WWII in the Pacific Ocean.

“I was in many battles, nine of them, 10 of them,” he said. “Iwo Jima was one of the worst. I was a boat coxswain. They put a Jeep in my boat and 18 Marines.”

Under enemy fire, he showed incredible courage, refusing to give up, when higherups already had.

“There was machine gun fire hitting us. We got an officer who was supposed to take command. He was so scared. He must have been new and never been in battle. He was behind me, in case, letting the bullets hit me, and then he got down real low. I took command of the whole thing. There was a whole bunch of boats there and we went in and I gave them the signals, when to go and everything,” Montaño said.

After many battles, Montaño came back to the United States in 1946. He started a family and went on pursuing his passions, one of them in Mexico, as a charro — a cowboy.

Montaño also fought in Korea and went on dangerous missions in Antarctica before retiring from the military in 1963. Despite the years, he still shows his Navy pride at military reunions.

“All the reunions are very important to me. My favorite part of today is running into these fellas that I know, and the ones that I don’t know, we’re all brothers. We went through it, I feel like they’re family,” Montaño said.

And with his military family, Montaño is finally able to open up about what they all went through: combat, danger and the horrors of the war.

“I couldn’t talk about it before. I’d break down crying and they didn’t want to see that. Within the last couple of years I can talk, but I never talked about it,” Montaño said.