Millions of visitors each year visit the Marine Corps War Memorial, otherwise known as the Iwo Jima flag-raising memorial, outside Arlington National Cemetery.
But did you know the original mold is also on display in the small city of Harlingen, Texas, where flag-raiser and Marine Cpl. Harlon Block lived? This month, the city will pay tribute to Block and the other flag-raisers for the 70th anniversary of the event.
The 32-foot-tall figures are in position, hoisting a 78-foot steel flagpole from which a cloth flag flies. The mold – which took nearly 10 years to create – was used to create the more famous memorial in Virginia.
The sculptor chose to permanently display the mold in Harlingen because the Marine Military Academy is based there, said Gloria Boling, director of the Iwo Jima Museum and Gift Shop in Harlingen, located across the street from the academy. “The pieces were laying in the back of sculptor Felix de Weldon’s studio, and he wanted to donate them to a high school so he found the Marine Military Academy.”
In 1981, the mold was donated to the school, but it took quite an effort to transport it. Thanks to the Texas Truckers Association, which covered the cost (fuel, manpower, etc.) of 10 flatbed trucks that delivered it to Harlingen. De Weldon, a Navy veteran, “came down and orchestrated it being put together,” Boling said.
History shows that Block, who is buried near the base of the monument, was not immediately identified as one of the six flag-raisers. Eighteen months after Joe Rosenthal’s iconic image was published, a congressional investigation revealed Block as one of the men. Fellow flag-raiser Ira Hayes helped set the record straight. “In fact, Hayes hitchhiked from Arizona to south Texas to tell Block’s mother that her boy helped raise the flag,” Boling said.
Inside the museum there is a special display honoring Block and the flag-raisers. It also has a collection of weapons, military memorabilia and a documentary film.
And every year on Feb. 23 the museum honors the flag-raisers. “We always have a parade to honor the Iwo Jima veterans (on the anniversary)," Boling said. "There’s not many left. Last year, I think we had eight Iwo Jima veterans and others from World War II.”