Block in 1943
|Birth name||Harlon Henry Block|
November 6, 1924|
|Died||March 1, 1945
Iwo Jima, Japan
|Service/branch||United States Marine Corps|
|Years of service||1943 – 1945|
|Unit||E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division|
|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 on Iwo Jima during World War II. Born in Yorktown, Texas, Block joined the Marine Corps with seven high school classmates in February 1943, and subsequently participated in combat on Bougainville and Iwo Jima. He is best known as one of the six servicemen photographed raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi, on February 23, 1945.
Block was born in Yorktown, Texas, the third of six children to Edward Frederick Block and Ada Belle Brantley, a Seventh day-Adventist family. The Block children were: Edward, Jr., Maurine, Harlon, Larry, Corky, and Melford. Edward Frederick Block was a World War I veteran and supported his family by working as a dairy farmer. 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". Block and seven of his high school friends decided on joining the Marine Corps before they graduated and the school held a special early graduation ceremony for them in January 1943.
US Marine Corps
World War II
Block and seven of his high school football teammates enlisted together in the Marine Corps through the Selective Service System at San Antonio on February 18, 1943 and were sent to recruit training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. On April 14, Block began parachute training at the Marine Parachute Training School in San Diego, and on May 22, he qualified as a Paramarine and was promoted to private first class. He was sent to the Pacific Theater. He arrived at New Caledonia on November 15, 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. On December 22, 1st Parachute Battalion, Weapons Company and a Headquarters and Service platoon attached to the 2nd Marine Raider Regiment, relieved the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines in the vicinity of Eagle Creek on Bougainville. Block returned to San Diego with his unit on February 14. On February 29, the parachutists disbanded and Block joined the Second Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California on March 1. He was promoted to corporal on October 27, 1944.
Flag raising on Iwo Jima
On February 19, 1945, Block and his unit landed on Iwo Jima. On February 23, Block helped raise a second and larger American flag on top of Mount Suribachi after helping to take telephone wire up the mountain with three other members of his rifle squad. Block, an assistant squad leader and or fire team leader, idolized his Second Platoon squad leader, Sgt. Michael Strank. Strank, who also helped raise the replacement flag attached to another section of Japanese water pipe found on the mountain, 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!". However, Ralph Griffiths, a member of the same platoon and or squad as Block, claims that Strank and Block were killed instantly by the same shell that wounded him on March 1.
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.
Flag raising controversy
In the battle aftermath, a controversy arose as to the real identity of one of the Marines who helped raise and plant the American flag attached to heavier and longer piper shown 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 flag-raiser 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. Hayes visited Block's home and father after he was discharged from the Marine Corps and told him it was his son in the photograph. 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 weren't killed in the battle of Iwo Jima.
Block didn't receive the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal because it required four years of service during the time period he served in. He was awarded the following US military decorations and awards:
- Purple Heart Medal
- Combat Action Ribbon
- Presidential Unit Citation
- American Campaign Medal.
- Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two 3⁄16 bronze stars
- World War II Victory Medal.
- Parachutist Badge
- Rifle Sharpshooter Badge
Portrayal in film
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.
- Marine Corps War Memorial
- Harlon Block exhibit, Weslaco Museum, Weslaco, Texas
- Harlon Block Memorial (Texas National Guard Armory), Weslaco, Texas
- Harlon Block Sports Complex (Park), Weslaco, Texas
- Marine Corps War Memorial
- Flags of Our Fathers
- Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima
- Shadow of Suribachi: Raising The Flags on Iwo Jima
- Meliton Kantaria - Soviet flag raiser over the Reichstag in Berlin, 1945.
- Mikhail Yegorov - Soviet flag raiser over the Reichstag in Berlin, 1945.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Harlon Block.|
- Biograph from the Handbook of Texas Online.
- "Famed Iwo Jima flag raisers gone but not forgotten". Marines.mil. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
- Bradley, p. 31.
- Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley, p. 29.
- Hendricks, Mark (7/26/2001), Iwo Jima: In Memory Of A Friend, 7/26/2001  Retrieved January 10, 2015
- Bradley, James (May 2000). Flags of Our Fathers. New York: Bantam Books. pp. 232–233. ISBN 0-553589-34-2.
- November 12, 2012  Retrieved December 14, 2014
- "Harlon Block". Find a Grave. Retrieved September 22, 2010.
- Bradley, James. Flags of Our Fathers. p. 417.
- Combat Action Ribbon (1969): Retroactive from December 7, 1941: Public Law 106-65--October 5, 1999, 113 Stat. 588, G, 564