Last week The United States commemorated Veterans Day on Nov 11. We decided here at Eastgate to hold our first ever Veterans Day Breakfast on Sat. Nov. 14th. Here in Harlingen, out by the airport and the Marine Military Academy, is the Iwa Jima Monument. I decided to check it out.
I had known it was their, but was sure not knowledgeable to what it really was or represented. My good friend Roberta and I took off and went exploring.
We stopped at the Visitor Center first. I had pulled up the web site before we left, and just as it said:
Their was the Calico Kitty to greet us at the door….She was just lazily laying in the bushes and came out to greet us. The Visitors Center is a quaint little building. The walk is edged with bricks that commemorate different family’s and soldiers. The door has 2 of the most interesting trees beside it that had obviously been their forever.
By the door was the sign stating the hours of the Visitor Center, and the Statement letting you know that the monument was being maintained entirely by donations. Then we went in. I was unprepared for the wealth of information and knowledge that I would find inside. The first impression, was small rooms cram packed with items. The first room was of course the gift shop, full of military themed souvenirs, flags, coffee cups, books, t-shirts etc. Their were several other rooms to the left full of artifacts. Towards the rear was a door open and I found out they were getting ready to show a 32 minute slide show. I went in and sat down and the show began. I had no idea really, what Iwa Jima was really about. My father and grandfather had served in the Military, but I really had no recent ties with any family members. I learned so much.
Iwa Jima was an island 600 miles from Japan and was only 8.1 square miles. It was inhabited by the Japanese Imperial Navy. It was a fairly flat island with a volcanic mountain at one end, Mount Suribachi. It contained 3 airfields. As our planes would fly to their bombing missions, they would be attacked by the Japanese. The United States decided to take the island as it would stop the planes from being attacked as well as a good place for refueling and staging, also for planes that had been damaged in Japanese bombing missions. The United States then attacked by bombing the island and destroying the landing fields and all the military bases and weapons. On the morning of Feb, 19 1945, the 28 Regiment, 5 Division, landed and was ordered to capture Mount Suribachi. They reached the base of the mountain on the afternoon of Feb. 21, and by nightfall the next day, had almost completely surrounded it. On the morning of Feb. 23, Marines of Company E, 2nd Battalion, started the tortuous climb on the rough terrain to the top. At about 10:30 a.m., men from all over the island were thrilled at the sight of a small American flag flying from atop Mount Suribachi.
That afternoon, when the slopes were clear of enemy resistance, a second larger flag was raised by five Marines and a Navy hospital corpsman:
– Sgt Michael Strank, USMC;
– Cpl Harlon H. Block, USMC;
– PFC Franklin R. Sousley, USMC;
– PFC Rene A. Gagnon, USMC;
– PFC Ira Hayes, USMC; and
– PhM 2/c John H. Bradley.
Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal caught the afternoon flag raising in an inspiring Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph. Little did they know that the 3 day battle would continue for 5 weeks. This five-week battle comprised some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting of the War in the Pacific of World War II.
The Japanese Army had built over 11 miles of underground tunnel system 4 stories down. They had installed bunkers, and pill box areas, that opened up to the surface to man hidden artillery, mortars and rockets. As the Americans would use flamethrowers and grenades to clear the bunkers, the bunkers would be reoccupied by more Japanese as they moved through the underground tunnel system. According to the official Navy Department Library website, “The 36-day (Iwo Jima) assault resulted in more than 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 dead. Of between 20,530 and 21,060 Japanese defenders entrenched on the island, from 17,845 to 18,375 died either from fighting or by ritual suicide. Only 216 were captured during the course of battle. After Iwo Jima, it was estimated there were no more than 300 Japanese left alive in the island’s caves and tunnels. In fact, there were close to 3,000. Those who could not bring themselves to commit suicide hid in the caves during the day and came out at night to prowl for provisions. Some did eventually surrender and were surprised that the Americans often received them with compassion, offering water, cigarettes, alcohol, or coffee. The last of these holdouts on the island, were just 2 Japanese solders who lasted 4 years without being caught and finally surrendered on 6 January 1949.
When the picture of the flag raising was later released, sculptor Dr. Felix W. de Weldon, then on duty with the U.S. Navy, was so moved by the scene that he constructed a scale model within 48 hours. He labored for 9.5 years to prepare a working, full sized model from molding plaster. Once the statue was completed in plaster, it was carefully disassembled and trucked to Brooklyn, N.Y., for casting in bronze.
After the three-year casting process, the bronze parts were trucked to Washington, D.C., for erection at Arlington National Cemetery. The plaster working model was moved to Dr. de Weldon’s summer home and studio in Newport, R.I., for storage.
In October 1981, Dr. de Weldon gifted his original, full sized working clay model to Marine Military Academy in Harlingen Texas, as an inspiration to our young cadets. Other major factors involved in his site selection included:
- The fairly constant temperature and humidity in Harlingen were ideal for the preservation of the molding-plaster figures.
- The street facing the memorial was appropriately named Iwo Jima Boulevard by MMA’s founders in 1965.
- MMA is the only place outside of Washington, D.C., where proper honors are rendered with battalion-size dress blue parades.
- The Marine placing the flagpole into the ground was a South Texas native, Cpl Harlon H. Block of Weslaco, Texas. Block’s gravesite resides directly behind the monument.
The Iwo Jima Monument was dedicated April 16, 1982 on the MMA Parade Ground.The 32-foot high figures are erecting a 78-foot steel flagpole from which a cloth flag flies 24 hours a day. They occupy the same positions as in Rosenthal’s historic photograph. Hayes is the figure farthest from the flagstaff; Sousley is to the right front of Hayes; Strank is on Sousley’s left; Bradley is in front of Sousley; Gagnon is in front of Strank; and CPl Harlon Block of Weslaco, is closest to the bottom of the flagstaff.
CPL. Harlon Block was killed in action about a week after the photo was taken. He would never know what his actions would mean to America some day. He died when he was just 21 years old. He was buried on Iwa Jima, and later after the war was over he was returned to his family in 1949, and buried in Weslaco. In 1995, his body was moved to a burial place at the Marine Military Academy near its Iwo Jima monument. For many of you who don’t know, Weslaco is but a few miles west of Harlingen. Cpl. Block still has many family members in the area.
This is a bicycle hanging on the wall in the museum. So many more artifacts, guns, ammo and pictures are on display. Finally Roberta and I went across the street to walk around the Monument. It was massive when you walked up close. The area is such a well groomed park.
In between the monument and the road is a large grassy area used for Military Parades in Formation. By the road is several large sections of stadium seats.
As you walk up close to the monument, I could see how well it is taken care of and preserved. I was immaculate. Clean and Fresh. They have to continually care for the monument as it is the original clay monument.
Their is such detail to the sculpture. As you walk around the back side of the monument, you’ll see a walking area with many trees.
Right in the middle is the grave of CPL. Harlon H. Block USMC. A Beautiful wreath has been placed at his grave site.
Behind his grave is small brick patio area with a fire pit in the center. Benches surround the pit. This is the Flag Retirement Facility….
Such a beautiful area to Retire a Flag with Honor….
This is the view looking north….The Fire pit, CPL. Blocks Grave, and the Monument………Beautiful…..Many of the bricks through all the walkways have been engraved with names of Veterans….
This was the end of a Wonderful and Inspiring Day. This was a pamphlet we picked up. Every year, they Celebrate Cpl. Blocks Birthday. He would have been 91 this year. They also hold the Veterans Day Parade. Next year I hope to see it……As the Generations grow, I think we forget and never understand what our Veterans of all the wars went through. This are things that we must keep the future generations educated about. War is different these days. Our generations don’t understand or know some of the fierce devastating battles our fore fathers experienced.
Please support Our Veterans and All Our Military….If Not for Them, We Would NOT Have The Freedoms We Have Today
On Saturday we honored Our Veterans in the Park. After our breakfast of pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, I gave a short speech on the Iwa Jima Monument, and CPL. Block. I called them 1 by 1.
After each name, I also called their branch of service. They got up to go to the stage with a giant hand of applause. Each one was given a huge hand of applause…..So heart warming. You could just feel the emotion, unity, respect and appreciation fill the room. We took pictures and then had a drawing for the Vets only.
One of the park residents Steve, had made 7 blankets and 1 pillow with Military themes. Each Veteran was given a ticket. After the drawing, a resident suggested we sing………. God Bless America…..What a Special Emotional Moment….Many left with Tears in their Eyes…
God Bless America….Home of the Free & The Brave