On February 23, 1945, after a hard-fought and costly battle on Iwo Jima, six individuals, representing 220,000 brave fellow American fighting soldiers, hoisted the American flag over Mount Suribachi.
Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, also at the summit, pointed his camera, framed the shot, pressed the shutter release button and captured a Pulitzer Prizewinning photograph that would be widely published the following Sunday, Feb. 25.
Within 48 hours of the publication of Rosenthal’s flag-raising photograph, Felix de Weldon, an Austrian-born American sculptor who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, was so moved by the image he fashioned a plaster model. Following the war, Congress commissioned de Weldon to construct a statue for the Marine Corps War Memorial based on his model, which became the cast bronze monument installed in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 10, 1954, the 179th anniversary of the founding of the Marine Corps.
The original plaster model remained with de Weldon for more than three decades, and, in 1981, he gifted the original model to the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen to inspire cadets at the institution. The model was cut into 107 pieces, and, after 16 weeks of preparation, it was placed on 10 flatbed trucks and shipped from Rhode Island to Harlingen. There, it was reassembled and lifted onto a granite base. On April 16, 1982, the monument was dedicated in its new home, on the grounds of the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen.
One of the six Marines who raised the flag was 20-year-old Corporal Harlan Block. He is, in fact, the soldier at the forefront who is seen thrusting the flag pole into the lava rock. Block died in action on Iwo Jima on March 1, 1945, just six days after the flag raising. He was buried on Iwo Jima, then reinterred in Weslaco, Texas. In 1995 his body was moved to Harlingen, where he’s buried near the base of the Iwo Jima Monument on the grounds of the Marine Military Academy.
The site of the Marine Corps War Memorial, otherwise known as the Iwo Jima Monument, also includes a visitor center and museum. Time your visit just right, and you may be able to visit with an Iwo Jima survivor like Robert Bloedorn. A Milwaukee, Wis., native, Bloedorn was drafted at age 18 and served for 26 months. He was in the 9th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. Bloedorn has volunteered at the Iwo Jima Monument Museum in Harlingen for 20 years. “People want to know stuff,” Bloedorn says. “I’m the guy to ask.” He serves as a living bridge to a time in history that’s shaped the present and future of the United States.
The 130-ton monument is open to the public on the grounds of the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen each day from sunup to sundown. The American flag — 12 feet by 9 feet — flutters atop a flagpole that brings the height of the monument to 105 feet. It’s illuminated at night. The soldiers are 32 feet tall and the monument sits on a Brazilian black granite base that measures 60 feet by 40 feet.
To put Iwo Jima and the importance of this monument into context, of the 80 Marines who received Medals of Honor during World War II, 22 earned their medals at Iwo Jima. Iwo Jima was epic in a war that was epic.