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16 World War II veterans turn out for Iwo Jima Parade
MMA proudly holds one of the few Iwo Jima Parades in the nation
HARLINGEN, Texas — Sixteen World War II veterans turned out for the Marine Military Academy (MMA) Iwo Jima Parade on Feb. 19. This year marked the 68th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima. Open to the public, this annual event is a tribute to the courage and sacrifice made by The Greatest Generation to preserve freedom around the world. As in previous years, the parade was well attended by the public, particularly veterans from all wars and branches.
The veterans of World War II sat in reserved seating directly in front of the historic Iwo Jima Monument, located on the MMA campus. During the parade, they all stood for the pledge of allegiance and joined Col R. Glenn Hill, MMA superintendent, for the ceremonial pass in review. Because of its sunny South Texas location, MMA is one of the few places in the nation with winters mild enough to hold an annual Iwo Jima Parade.
Edward “Tommy” Thompson, a resident of St. Louis Park, Minn., and Pharr, Texas, attended the Iwo Jima Parade for the first time.
“Seeing the presentation and all those cadets from the school, it was very meaningful,”
Thompson attended the parade with his friend, Alvin Hays. Hays, also a World War II veteran, was a Navy SEAL who scouted the island of Iwo Jima before the Marines landed.
In addition to honoring America’s veterans, the parade recognizes the historical significance of the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II. On Feb. 19, 1945, members of the 3rd, 4th and 5th U.S. Marine divisions stormed the tiny Pacific island expecting little resistance. Unknown to Allied forces, the Japanese had spent months fortifying the island through underground tunnels. A month-long struggle ensued in which over 6,000 Marines and 20,000 Japanese soldiers perished.
On fifth day of the battle, U.S. Marines raised two flags on top of Mount Suribachi. The second flag-raising was captured by photographer Joe Rosenthal. Rosenthal’s now-famous photo of five Marines and one Navy Corpsman raising the American flag inspired Dr. Felix de Weldon to sculpt the U. S. Marine Corps War Memorial, the magnificent bronze statue located in Arlington, Va. De Weldon officially gave his original model to MMA in 1981. Since April 16, 1982, MMA has been home to the historic treasure known as the Iwo Jima Monument.
MMA can thank one particular South Texas native for the Iwo Jima Monument. Corporal Harlon Block of Weslaco, Texas, was one of the Marines to erect the American flag on Feb. 23, 1945. He is depicted at the base of the flagpole. Though he did not return from World War II, Block will forever be remembered by Americans in Rosenthal’s photo and de Weldon’s statue. Block’s gravesite resides directly behind the Iwo Jima Monument.
One of the guests to attend the 2013 Iwo Jima Parade was 88-year-old Glen Cleckler, a World War II veteran and Block’s best friend. He and Block attended Weslaco High School and enlisted in the Marine Corps together in December 1942. In fact, they enlisted in the Marine Corps because they needed an excused absence for skipping a day of school.
Cleckler returned from World War II and brought back Block’s Marine Corps ring, which is now housed in the Iwo Jima Museum on the MMA campus. Cleckler became a lifelong educator in Harlingen, Texas, and still shares the history he lived with those who ask.