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

World War II

Awards Purple Heart Medal
Combat Action Ribbon

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 was killed during the battle of Iwo Jima a few days after being photographed with five Marines raising an American flag on top of Mount Suribachi on February 23, 1945. The flag-raising picture became one of the best-known photographs of the war.

The Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, which was based on this flag-raising, is located outside Arlington National Cemetery.

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 city 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.[5]

U.S. Marine Corps[edit]

World War II[edit]

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, E Company, 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(s) on Iwo Jima[edit]

Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima
Harlon Block (holding flagstaff with back facing camera). A portion of the color film shot by Staff Sgt. Bill Genaust, USMC, excerpted from the 1945 "Carriers Hit Tokyo" newsreel

On February 19, 1945, Block landed with his unit near Mount Suribachi at the southern end of Iwo Jima which was the 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines objective, and fought in the battle for the capture of the island. On February 23, a 40-man patrol from Third Platoon, Easy Company, was sent up Mount Suribachi to seize and occupy the crest and raise an American flag to signal that the mountaintop was captured. The patrol led by First Lieutenant Harold Schrier who carried the battalion's flag, left 8 AM and soon made it to the top of Mount Suribachi. The flag was raised by Schrier, his Platoon Sergeant, and another sergeant. After a brief firefight with Japanese soldiers who were hiding in caves after the flag was raised, the summit was secured.

It was determined that the flag was too small to be seen on the north side of Mount Suribachi where most of the Japanese were located and heavy fighting would occur, so another and larger flag was called for. At around noon or so, Marine Sgt. Michael Strank, Cpl. Harlon Block (mistaken for Sgt. Henry Hansen until January 1947), Pfc. Ira Hayes, and Pfc. Franklin Sousley of the Second Platoon of Easy Company were ordered to climb Mount Suribachi and raise a replacement flag, and on the way up lay telephone communication wire to the top. Pfc. Rene Gagnon, the Easy Company runner (messenger), was ordered to take the flag up and return with the first flag. Block, an assistant squad leader and or fire team leader, idolized Strank, his Second Platoon squad leader.

Once on top, Hayes and Sousley found a Japanese water pipe to be used for a flagstaff. The flag was attached to the pipe and as the four Marines were about to raise the flagstaff, Strank called for help from Gagnon and Pfc. Harold Schultz (John Bradley was believed to be in the photo until June 23, 2016), who was present at the first flag-raising.[6] The six Marines then raised the replacement flag as the first flag and flagstaff was lowered. The second raising was immortalized forever by the black and white photo of the flag raising by Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press. This flag-raising was also filmed in color by Staff Sergeant Bill Genaust who was later killed in action. Strank and Sousley were also killed in action on March 1 and March 21.


According to the book Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley (son of Navy corpsman John Bradley), Block then assumed command of Strank's squad in Second Platoon after Strank was killed on March 1, and later the same day Block 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!".[7] However, Ralph Griffiths, a member of the same platoon as Block, claims that Strank and Block were killed instantly by the same shell which wounded him on March 1.[8]

Block was originally buried in the 5th Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima in 1945. A service was held there on March 26 which included Hayes and other members of Easy Company. In January 1949, Block's remains 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.[1][9]

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 identity of the person shown at the right end and bottom of the flagstaff in the famous photograph of the second flag raising on Mount Suribachi. When Block's mother first viewed Joe Rosenthal's iconic 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, one of the flag-raisers who was the Second Battalion (2/28 Marines) runner for Easy Company, 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 raising earlier that morning.[10] Navy corpsman John Bradley (who was involved with the first raising and believed to have raised the second flag until June 23, 2016), 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." A Congressional investigation which began in September 1946, concluded in January 1947, that it was indeed Block from Second Platoon, Easy Company, and not Hansen in the photograph. Ira Hayes, another second flag-raiser and member of Second Platoon, Easy Company, who initiated the controversy in April 1945 and was instrumental in 1946 in proving Block's being in the famous photograph and Bradley, agreed that "it could be Block". In fact, Hayes was ordered to Washington D.C. with Gagnon and Bradley when the Marines left Iwo Jima on March 26, 1945, and Hayes told a Marine colonel interviewing in Washington about the flag raising photo that it was Block and not Hansen in the photo, 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.[11]

Hayes visited Block's home in 1946 after he was discharged from the Marine Corps in December 1945, and told Block's father it was his son in the photograph. Mr. Block then told his wife who Hayes wrote a letter to afterwards about Harlon being in the photograph. Mrs. Block then took the letter to her congressman who initiated the Marine Corps investigation of the matter.

Marine Corps War Memorial[edit]

The Marine Corps War Memorial (also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial) in Arlington, Virginia which was inspired by Rosenthal's photograph of the second flag raising on Mount Suribachi was dedicated on November 10, 1954.[12] Block is depicted as the first bronze statue at the bottom of the flagstaff with the 32 foot (9.8 M) bronze statues of the other five flag-raisers on the monument (as of June 23, 2016, Harold Schultz is depicted as the fifth bronze statue from the bottom of the flagstaff).[13]

President Dwight D. Eisenhower attended the memorial's dedication ceremony and sat upfront with Vice President Richard Nixon and Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Anderson. Also in attendance were two of the three surviving flag-raisiers depicted on the monunment, Ira Hayes and Rene Gagnon, who were seated together with John Bradley (was misidentified as being a flag-raiser) in the front rows of seats along with relatives of the those who were killed in action on the island.[14] Speeches were given by Richard Nixon, Robert Anderson who dedicated the memorial, and Lemuel Shepherd, the 20th Commandant of the Marine Corps who presented the memorial to the American people.[15] Inscribed on the memorial are the following words:

In Honor And Memory Of The Men of The United States Marine Corps Who Have Given Their Lives To Their Country Since 10 November, 1775

Military awards[edit]

Block's military decorations and awards include:

Note: The Marine Good Conduct Medal in World War II required 4 years of serice.

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.

Public honors[edit]

  • 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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "BLOCK, HARLON HENRY". The Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 28 October 2015. 
  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. ^ Hendricks, Mark (7/26/2001), Iwo Jima: In Memory Of A Friend, 7/26/2001 [1] Retrieved January 10, 2015
  6. ^ USMC Statement on Marine Corps Flag Raisers, Office of U.S. Marine Corps Communication, 23 June 2016
  7. ^ Bradley, James (May 2000). Flags of Our Fathers. New York: Bantam Books. pp. 232–233. ISBN 0-553589-34-2. 
  8. ^ November 12, 2012 [2] Retrieved December 14, 2014
  9. ^ "Harlon Block". Find a Grave. Retrieved September 22, 2010. 
  10. ^ [3] Rural Florida Living. CBS Radio interview by Dan Pryor with flag raiser Ernest "Boots" Thomas on February 25, 1945 aboard the USS Eldorado (AGC-11): "Three of us actually raised the flag"
  11. ^ Bradley, James. Flags of Our Fathers. p. 417.
  12. ^ [4] Marine Barracts Washinton, D.C.
  13. ^ USMC Statement on Marine Corps Flag Raisers, Office of U.S. Marine Corps Communication, 23 June 2016
  14. ^ "Memorial honoring Marines dedicated". Reading Eagle (Pennsylvania). Associated Press. November 10, 1954. p. 1. 
  15. ^ "Marine monument seen as symbol of hopes, dreams". Spokane Daily Chronicle (Washington). Associated Press. November 10, 1954. p. 2. 
  16. ^ Combat Action Ribbon (1969): Retroactive from December 7, 1941: Public Law 106-65--October 5, 1999, 113 Stat. 588, G, 564