February 23 celebrates 73 years since the famous World War II Iwo Jima flag-raising. The moment was etched into the minds of Americans when an Associated Press photographer snapped a picture of the event. The iconic image, showing six marines hoisting a large flag atop Mount Suribachi, is one of the most-reproduced images ever.
U.S. Marines began landing by boat at Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. Relatively close to the Japanese mainland, the island was a strategic stronghold American forces wanted to control. U.S. troops battled about 23,000 Japanese soldiers there for the better part of a month before winning and taking control of the island. About 6,000 Americans were killed—another 17,000 were injured. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the war.
When Marines raised the American flag atop Mount Suribachi, it was after two hard days of battling their way to the top. The flag was a signal to troops below that their efforts had paid off. One of those flag-raising Marines was Texan Cpl. Harlon Block.
Block was born in 1924 in Yorktown and later moved to Weslaco (both of Texas) with his family. By 1943, he had finished high school and was enlisted in the Marines, along with a dozen buddies from his high school football team. After his training, he was shipped off to the Pacific Theater. He fought the Japanese at Bougainville and, as mentioned above, Iwo Jima.
Sadly, on March 1, just a few days after the famed photo was taken, Block was killed by an enemy mortar explosion while leading a charge up Iwo Jima’s Nishi Ridge. Block was originally buried there on Iwo Jima, too, but he was later brought back to the U.S. In 1995, his body was again moved. This time, it went to the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, Texas. The academy has its own Iwo Jima monument with a cast of the famous statue—based on the even-more famous photo—that stands at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.
Block has several Texas parks and memorials in his honor and was portrayed by actor Benjamin Walker in the 2006 film Flags of our Fathers. Block earned several medals and decorations for his bravery, including a purple heart.
Veteran Energy salutes Block, the Marines and every other brave soul who ever fought to keep America free. Thank you for your service.