Three blocks from the Tropic Winds Resort near the airport and adjacent to the Marine Military Academy is the Iwo Jima Memorial. On a nice warm day we walked over to the memorial for a looksee. From our RV we can see the huge flag flying proudly in the breeze almost beaconing us to come for a visit. We enjoyed our visit. One of the men portrayed in the memorial is buried on the grounds next to the memorial, because he’s from the area.
The following is re-written from a brochure we picked up at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Harlingen, Tx.
The small island of Iwo Jima (Japanese for Sulphur Island) lies 660 miles south of Tokyo. One of its outstanding geographical features is Mount Suribachi, an extinct volcano that forms the narrow southern tip of the island and rises 550 feet to dominate the area. By February 1945, U.S. troops had recaptured most of the territory taken by the Japanese in 1941 and 1942; still uncaptured was the island of Iwo Jima, which became a primary objective in American plans to bring the Pacific campaign to a successful conclusion.
On the morning of February 9, 1945, the 4th and 5th Marine divisions invaded Iwo Jima after a somewhat ineffective bombardment lasting 72 hours. The 28th Regiment, 5th Division, was ordered to capture Mount Suribachi. They reached the base of the mountain on the afternoon of February 21, and by nightfall the next day had almost completely surrounded it. On the morning of February 23, Marines of Company E, 2 Battalion, started the tortuous climb on the rough terrain to the top. At about 10:30 a.m., men all over the island were thrilled by the sight of a small American Flag flying from atop Mount Suribachi. That afternoon, when the slopes were clear of enemy resistance, a second larger flag was raised by five marines and a Navy hospital corpsman: Sgt. Michael Strank, Cpl. Harlon H. Block, Pfc. Franklin R. Sousley, Pfc. Rene A. Gagon, Pfc. Ira Hayes and PhM2/c John H. Bradley, USN. Newsphotographer Joe Ronsenthal caught the afternoon flagraising in an inspiring Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph. When the picture was later released, sculptor Dr. Felix W. de Weldon, then on duty with the U.S. Navy, was so moved by the scene that he constructed a scale model within 48 hours, which became the symbol for the 7th and final war bond drive. After the war Dr. de Weldon felt that the inspiring event should be depicted on a massive scale in our nation’s capital. Over a nine and one-half year period he labored to prepare a working model from molding plaster. Gagnon, Hayes and Bradley, the three survivors of the flagraising (the others having been killed in the later phases of the Iwo battle) posed for the sculptor who modeled their faces in clay. All available pictures and physical statistics of the three who had given their lives were collected and then used in the modeling of their faces. Once the statue was completed in plaster, it was carefully disassembled and trucked to Brooklyn, N.Y., for casting in bronze. After the three year casting process, the bronze parts were trucked to Washington, D.C. for erection at Arlington National Cemetery. The plaster working model was moved to Dr. de Weldon’s summer home and studio in Newport, R.I. for storage. The bronze memorial in Washington was officially dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on November 10, 1954, the 179th anniversary of the U. S. Marine Corps.
The memorial in Harlingen, Texas was given to the Marine Military Academy in October of 1981 by Dr. de Weldon. It is the original working model prepared by him for the casting of the bronze in Washington. He gave the work of art to the Academy to stand as an inspiration to young Cadets. There were other major factors involved in this site being selected by Dr. de Weldon: the fairly constant temperature and humidity are ideal for the preservation of the molding-plaster figures, the street facing the memorial was named Iwo Jima Boulevard by the Academy’s founders in 1965 and the Academy is the only place outside of Washington, D.C. where proper honors can be rendered with battalion size dress blue parades. Also, a chapel faces the east side of the memorial, the Marine placing the flag pole into the ground was a Rio Grand Valley native, Corporal Harlon H. Block of Weslaco and the famous quote on the base of the memorial was spoken by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz of Fredericksburg, Texas.
The 32 foot high figures are shown erecting a 78 foot steel flagpole from which a cloth flag flies 24 hours a day. They occupy the same positions as in Rosenthal’s historic photograph. Hayes is the figure farthest from the flagstaff; Sousley to the right front of Hayes; Strank on Sousley's left; Bradley in front of Sousley; Gagon in front of Strank; and Block closest to the bottom of the flagstaff. The figures, placed on a rock slope, rise about six feet from a 10 foot base. The M-1 rifle and the carbine carried by two of the figures are 16 and 12 feet long, respectively. The canteen would hold 32 quarts. The base of the memorial is made of black Brazilian granite. Burnished in gold on the granite are the names and dates of every principal Marine Corps engagement since the founding of the Corps, as well as the inscription: “In honor and in memory of the men of the United States Marine Corps who have given their lives for there country since November 10, 1775.” Also inscribed on the base is the tribute of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz to the fighting men on Iwo Jima: “Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue.”
The museum on the site of this important national memorial is fabulous. Be sure to watch the 30 minute film about the taking of Iwo Jima. We came away admiring more than ever the men involved in this battle. On staff is at least one Iwo Jima veteran, willing to talk and answer any and all your questions.