I paid tribute to Harlon Block in a blog on February 14, 2018. Block was the marine in front when 6 men planted the American flag atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. Later killed in action, Block was from Weslaco, Texas, a town not too far from Harlingen in the Rio Grande Valley. The biggest attraction in Harlingen today is a full-scale copy of the Iwo Jima Memorial that’s at Arlington National Cemetery. It’s on the parade deck of the Marine Military Academy. Within walking distance from it is a free museum that contains a tribute to Harlon Block. The AAA gives this Iwo Jima memorial a well-deserved gem.
This sculpture, which was copied from the flag planting photo, has become part of the Iwo Jima story. The prize-winning photograph of the event captured by Joe Rosenthal inspired sculptor Felix W. de Weldon, who was on duty with the U. S. Navy, to create a plaster model. During the next 10 years it was cast in bronze and installed at Arlington National Cemetery. This exact model went into storage for almost 30 years. To inspire Marine Military Academy cadets, future marines, de Weldon gave the sculpture to the school. The climate in Harlingen is ideal for a 32 feet high plaster version of the famous bronze sculpture. The remains of Harlon Block were moved to be near it.
The island of Iwo Jima was 660 miles south of Tokyo, and by 1945 the United States needed it for military air strikes on Japan after troops had reclaimed most of the territory taken by the Japanese early in World War II. Because the Japanese on Iwo Jima lived like rats in an elaborate underground cave system between the landing beach and the extinct volcano on Mount Suribachi, the perfect place to display the American flag, it took 26 days to reach its summit. In all, 6,821 U.S. combatants were killed on Iwo Jima and fewer than 1,000 of the 2,300 Japanese fighters on the island survived. One of the fiercest battles in history, the taking of this island is often called “The Gettysburg of the Pacific”. An excellent, very detailed documentary about this marine assault can be seen in the museum. There are many, perhaps too many, artifacts on display in the cramped museum. The most interesting thing to me was an old bicycle actually used on Iwo Jima.