Harlon Henry Block (November 6, 1924 – March 1, 1945) was a United States Marine during World War II. Born in Yorktown, Texas, Block joined the Marine Corps in November 1943 and subsequently participated in combat action on Bougainville and Iwo Jima where he was killed in action. He is best known as one of the six men photographed raising the flag on Iwo Jima
Block was born in Yorktown, Texas, the third of six children to Edward Frederick Block and Ada Belle Brantley, a Seventh day-Adventistfamily. The Block children were: Edward, Jr., Maurine, Harlon, Larry, Corky, and Melford.
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 vandalised the school. Block then transferred to Weslaco High School in Weslaco, 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 twelve of his high school football teammates enlisted in the Marine Corps through the Selective Service System at San Antonioon February 18, 1943. After basic training in San Diego, he took parachute training and qualified as a Paramarine. He was promoted toprivate first class on May 22, 1943.
He was sent to the Pacific Theatre. He arrived at New Caledonia on November 15, 1943, 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 and participated in the Bougainville Campaign. The parachute regiment disbanded on February 29, 1944, and he was sent back to San Diego, California. He joined Company E, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California and on October 24, Block was promoted to corporal.
Block landed on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. He participated in the second American flag-raising on Mount Suribachi on February 23, 1945. Block idolized and followed his rifle platoon squad leader without question as assistant squad leader until Sgt. Michael Strank was killed on March 1, according to the book, Flags of Our Fathers. Block assumed command of the squad and while leading them hours later the same day during an attack toward Nishi Ridge, he was mortally wounded by an enemy mortar round explosion... Block's last words were, "They killed me!"
In the battle aftermath, controversy arose as to the real identity of one of the Marines who planted the American flag in the famous photograph of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima. When Block's mother first viewed Joe Rosenthal's iconic flag raising photograph in the Weslaco newspaper on February 25, just two days after the photo was taken, she immediately exclaimed, "That's Harlon", pointing to the figure on the far right. However, Rene Gagnonmistakenly identified the person as Sergeant Hank Hansen of Boston, another Paramarine who was involved in the first flag-raising earlier that day, but who was not included in the famous photograph. John Bradley concurred with Gagnon at that time.
Block's mother never wavered in her belief that it was Harlon insisting, "I know my boy", yet no one believed her. Some eighteen months later, aCongressional investigation revealed that it was indeed Block and not Hansen in the photograph. Fellow Paramarine Ira Hayes was instrumental in proving Block's involvement 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 (and Block's father shortly before the investigation) that the sixth flag raiser was Block, but since the Marines had already made announcements that Hansen had been identified, he was told not to make waves.Burial site
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 buried place at the Marine Military Academy near its Iwo Jima monument in Harlingen, Texas