Harlon Block

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Harlon Block
Harlon Block.jpg
Block in 1943
Birth name Harlon Henry Block
Born (1924-11-06)November 6, 1924
Yorktown, Texas
Died March 1, 1945(1945-03-01) (aged 20)
Iwo Jima, Japan
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch USMC logo.svg United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1943 – 1945
Rank Corporal
Unit E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division
Battles/wars

World War II

Awards Purple Heart Medal
Combat Action Ribbon
Presidential Unit Citation

Harlon Henry Block (November 6, 1924 – March 1, 1945) was a United States Marine who was killed in action during World War II. Born in Yorktown, Texas, Block joined the Marine Corps in November 1943 and subsequently participated in combat on Bougainville and Iwo Jima. He is best known as one of the six men photographed raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi, on February 23, 1945.

Early life[edit]

Block was born in Yorktown, Texas, the third of six children to Edward Frederick Block and Ada Belle Brantley, a Seventh day-Adventist family.[1][2] The Block children were: Edward, Jr., Maurine, Harlon, Larry, Corky, and Melford.[3]

Edward Frederick Block was a World War I veteran and supported his family by working as a dairy farmer.[4]

In hopes of improving the family, the Block family relocated to Weslaco, Texas, a small town located in the Rio Grande Valley. His father became a dairy farmer, and the children attended a Seventh-day Adventist private school. Harlon Block was expelled in his freshman year when he refused to tell the principal which student had vandalized the school. Block then transferred to Weslaco High School and was remembered as an outgoing student with many friends. A natural athlete, Block led the Weslaco Panther Football Team to the Conference Championship. He was honored as "All South Texas End".

World War II[edit]

U.S. Marine Corps[edit]

Block and twelve of his high school football teammates enlisted in the Marine Corps through the Selective Service System at San Antonio on February 18, 1943. After basic training in San Diego, he took parachute training and qualified as a Paramarine. He was promoted to private first class on May 22, 1943. He was sent to the Pacific Theater. He arrived at New Caledonia on November 15, 1943, where he served as a member of Headquarters and Service Company, 1st Marine Parachute Regiment, I Marine Amphibious Corps. On December 21, he landed on Bougainville and participated in the Bougainville Campaign. The parachute regiment disbanded on February 29, 1944, and he was sent back to San Diego, California. He joined Second Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California. He was promoted to corporal on October 24, 1944.

Battle of Iwo Jima and death[edit]

On February 19, 1945, Block and his unit landed on Iwo Jima. On February 23, Block helped raise the second American flag on Mount Suribachi. Block, a fire leam leader, idolized and followed his squad leader Sgt. Michael Strank. Strank, who also helped raise the second flag, was killed on March 1 by a shell burst. According to the book Flags of Our Fathers, Block then assumed command of Strank's squad and later the same day was mortally wounded by an enemy mortar round explosion while leading the squad during an attack toward Nishi Ridge. Block's last words were, "They killed me!". [5]However, Ralph Griffiths, a member of the same platoon as Strank, claims that Strank and Block were killed instantly by the same shell that wounded him on March 1.[6]

Block was originally buried in the 5th Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima in 1945. In January 1949, he was re-interred in Weslaco, Texas. In 1995, his body was moved to a burial place at the Marine Military Academy near its Iwo Jima monument in Harlingen, Texas.[7]

Flag raising controversy[edit]

A photo to show the identities of the six second flag-raisers on Mt. Suribachi.

In the battle aftermath, a controversy arose as to the real identity of one of the Marines who helped plant the American flag and flagpole in the famous photograph of the second flag-raising on Mount Suribachi. When Block's mother first viewed Joe Rosenthal's iconic flag raising photograph of the second flag raising in the Weslaco newspaper on February 25, just two days after the photo was taken, she immediately exclaimed, "That's Harlon", pointing to the figure on the far right. However, Rene Gagnon, a second flag-raiser and a Marine runner for Company E, mistakenly identified the flag-raiser as Sergeant Hank Hansen of Boston, a member of Third Platoon of Company E, who had participated in the first flag and flagpole raising earlier that morning. Another second flag-raiser, John Bradley, a corpsman from Third Platoon of Company E, concurred with Gagnon at that time.

Block's mother never wavered in her belief that it was Harlon in the photo insisting, "I know my boy", yet no one believed her. Some eighteen months after the flag raising(s), a Congressional investigation revealed that it was indeed Block from Second Platoon of Company E, and not Hansen in the photograph. Ira Hayes, another second flag-raiser and member of Second Platoon of Company E, was instrumental in proving Block's being in the famous photograph, and in the end, both Gagnon and Bradley agreed that "it could be Block". In fact, Hayes had told Marine officials after he himself was identified as a second flag-raiser, that Hansen was mistaken for Block, but since the Marine Corps had already made public announcements that Hansen had been identified as a flag-raiser in the photograph, Hayes was told not to make waves.[8] Hayes visited Block's parents after he was discharged from the Marine Corps and told them it was their son in the photograph. Second flag-raisers, Block, Hayes, and Franklin Sousley (killed in action) were members of Sgt. Strank's squad in Second Platoon. Hayes, Gagnon, and Bradley were the only second flag-raisers who survived the battle of Iwo Jima.

Military awards[edit]

Block didn't receive the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal because it required four years of service at that time. The 516 silver star on his Presidential Unit Citation ribbon is a World War II battle star for Iwo Jima. He is credited with the following military awards:

Corporal Block's service ribbons at the time of his death.

Portrayal in film[edit]

Harlon Block is featured in the 2006 Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood film Flags of Our Fathers, directed by Clint Eastwood and produced by Eastwood, Spielberg and Robert Lorenz. In the movie, Block is portrayed by American actor Benjamin Walker. His parents are portrayed by Christopher Curry and Judith Ivey. The film is based on the 2000 book of the same title.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Biograph from the Handbook of Texas Online.
  2. ^ "Famed Iwo Jima flag raisers gone but not forgotten". Marines.mil. Retrieved 2012-05-17. 
  3. ^ Bradley, p. 31.
  4. ^ Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley, p. 29.
  5. ^ Bradley, James (May 2000). Flags of Our Fathers. New York: Bantam Books. pp. 232–233. ISBN 0-553589-34-2. 
  6. ^ November 12, 2012 [1] Retrieved December 14, 2014
  7. ^ "Harlon Block". Find a Grave. Retrieved September 22, 2010. 
  8. ^ Bradley, James. Flags of Our Fathers. p. 417.
  9. ^ Combat Action Ribbon (1969): Retroactive from December 7, 1941: Public Law 106-65--October 5, 1999, 113 Stat. 588, G, 564