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February 17, 2016     Hays Free Press
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Page 4C COMMUNITY Hays Free Press February 17, 2016 A Young marine from outh Texas was ne of six American fighting men caught on camera on Feb. 23, 1945 raising the Stars and Stripes on a Pacific battle- field called Iwo lima. Harlon Henry Block was born in 1924 atYork- town and grew up on 40 acres in the Rio Grande Valley. The third of six children, he had one sis- ter and four brothers. Harlon's mother missed the city life of San Antonio and never quite adjusted to the hardscrabble exis- tence down on the farm. Finding comfort and encouragement in the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Belle Block put in long days nursing the terminally ill in order to send her children to the local Adventist school. Harlon may have been the most religious of the Block kids, but that did not mean he was a push- over. More than once he stood up to the principal, and the last time, when he refused to snitch on a vandal, got him kicked out of school. The expulsion was a blessing in disguise for the natural athlete, who enrolled in high school at nearbyWeslaco. Over the objections of his mother but to his father's delight, Harlon tried out for foot- ball. He not only made the team but became a star player excelling at punting, blocking and catching passes. As a senior in 1942, Harlon figured promi- nently in the Panthers' undefeated season. He was named to the All South Texas eleven and considered for a gridiron scholarship. But com- bat, not college, was in Harlon's plans. The day he an- nounced that he was enlist- ing in the Marine Corps with 12 team- mates, Belle reminded him Seventh Day Adven- tists were conscientious objectors who served their country as medical personnel. Harlon ruled out the pacifist option and insisted upon fighting alongside his buddies. His mother refused to give her consent, but his father, aWofldWar I veteran, signed the neces- sary papers in the belief, according to a brother, "it will make him a man." Basic training at San Diego was followed by paratrooper school. Har- lon was assigned to the First Marine Parachute Regiment and shipped out in November 1943 a PHOTO BY JOE ROSENTHAL Harlon Henry Bloc is one man photographed here raising a flag at Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945. This Week in Texas History by Bartee Haile week after his 19th birth- day. Harlon's naive notions of battle were shattered on Bougainville, the next stop after Guadacanal in territory. Orders were soon issued to replace the small banner with an eight-by- five-and-a-half- foot Old Glory salvaged from a sunken ship at Pearl Harbor. Three photographers were present for the second flag-raising. The larger Stars and Stripes was secured to a ten-foot, 100-pound pipe, which Harlon planted on the summit as five comrades pushed the heavy staff into place. Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press snapped several quick shots in the hope that one at least would turn out okay. The picture that won the wire-service camera- man a Pulitzer Prize ap- peared on the front page of nearly every news- paper in the country on Sun., Feb. 25. Ed Jr. was sitting in the living room reading the Weslaco Mid-Valley News, when his mother pointed at the photo and exclaimed, "Look there, Junior! There's your brother Harlon." "Momma, there's no way you can know that's Harlon. That's just the back of a marine. And be- sides, we don't even know Harlon is on Iwo lima." "Oh, that's definitely Harlon," Belle Block re- plied. "I know my boy." Corporal Harlon Block never saw the most famous photograph of WorldWar II. Killed in action on Mar. 1, he was among the more than 6,000 Americans that did not make it off Iwo Jima alive. The figure on the far right of the Rosenthal picture was originally misidentified as a dead marine from Boston. It took one of the surviv- ing flag raisers to set the record straight. Ira Hayes, the troubled Pima Indian who even- tually drank himself to the Pacific island-hop- ping campaign. A fellow marine called the godfor- saken place "the closest thing to a living hell that I ever saw in my life." Harlon came home on furlough in March 1944 a traumatized shell haunt- ed by a sense of impend- ing doom. He shared his fatalistic vision with everyone who would listen, Harlon's naive everyone, notions of that is, except his parents. battle were "i don't think i'll shattered on be coming Bougainville, back,"Harlon confided to the next the wife of a stop after former team- mate. Big Guadacanal brother Ed Jr. in the Pacific laughed off the gloomy island- prediction hopping but knew deep down campaign, he was as serious as a heart attack. "He wasn't joking around." The first waves of 70,000 marines went ashore at Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945. Dug into the 11 square miles of volcanic rock were 22,000 of Imperial Japan's most fanatical troops prepared to fight to the last man rather than surrender. Four days and thou- sands of lives later, a group of marines reached the top of Mount Suriba- chi, the highest point on the island, and hoisted the first foreign flag ever flown over Japanese Overcoming the Odds Continued from pg. 1C me feel sorry for myself." The largest motivation came from his personal trainer, who, over the course of several months, taught Reyes how to walk without assistance of a cane. In addition, Reyes said he had to drastically change his lifestyle. He said dropping such vices as drinking alcohol and coffee helped him on his road to recovery. "IfI could go back, I would cut out the bad habits and vices and eat better, and try to be healthier," Reyes said. It was during his re- covery that Reyes learned from a cousin that lived in the area about the 5K run. For Reyes, taking his first recovery steps near the place he once called home made the most i Ih .ll,i, .,,r ,,, know and gauge where I'm at," Reyes said. Reyes began to feel fatigue in one of his legs by the third mile. He had previously walked a similar length only twice before. But with few obstacles in his way, Reyes pushed ahead toward the finish. "I finished it and it's the fastest pace I've walked thus far and it's the far- thest I've walked," Reyes said. "It's a double posi- tive for me." For Reyes, the ability to finish the race now giyes him a barometer of his abilities. "It's good to be insured and to have goals and that's something that was definitely hard to come by," Reyes said. "I think I took everything for granted." sense. "I figured, hey, I've got a second chance at every- thing, so I'll take my first steps as an adult in the same area," Reyes said. Despite still having a slight limp, Reyes pre- pared to take on the 3.1- mile course. Keeping pace with the pack was one of the chal- lenges Reyes faced. While he said he was steady enough to walk, he ad- mitted it was "tough." The undulating hills and depressions of the course, along with the knowledge he was "hold- ing the course up" were also challenges. But pushing him along was the want to gauge where he was in reocery. "I wanted to get it done to see how far I've come along with recovery, so I death, hitchhiked 1,300 miles from an Arizona reservation to South Tex- as in May 1946. He found Harlon's father hard at work in a cotton field and told him the truth. In a letter to a grateful Belle Block, Hayes later wrote, "It did not seem right for such a brave marine as your son not to get any recognition." Still don't have a copy of Bartee's latest book "Texas Boomtowns: A History of Blood and Oil"? Orderyours today with a check for $28.80 to Bartee Haile, P.O. Box 152, Friendswood, TX 77549 or on-line at barteehaile. com. Thyme 1i726 Manehaca. Rd. Austin, TX78748 5.12-280,1192 :::?~ ::::::: ::. :: ::.: ::: ::::::. Share local events with us on the Hays Free Press Events Calendar. It's free to non-profit organizations. Email christine@haysfreepress.com to submit your event. We reserve the right to edit or limit calendar entries. an CO El il i I