By Jug Varner
Unless you are a Marine, or are familiar with the area around Harlingen, Texas, you may be surprised to know that the Iwo Jima Monument in Washington D.C. has a twin — located some 1,700 miles southwest, in the Rio Grande Valley. It is situated in a unique and fitting atmosphere that you also may not have known about until now.
Publication of Joe Rosenthal's Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of the Iwo Jima Flag Raising in February 1945, had such a moving effect on sculptor Felix W. de Weldon (then on active duty with the Navy) that he constructed a scale model of it within 48-hours of seeing the picture. His model became the symbol for the seventh and final War Bond drive to raise money for WWII.
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-year period he labored to prepare a working model from molding plaster. The three surviving flag raisers posed for the sculptor, who modeled their faces in clay. Then, using available photos and physical characteristics of the three others who were killed at Iwo Jima before the end of the battle, he made clay models of their faces. Once the statue was completed, de Weldon carefully disassembled and trucked it to Brooklyn, NY, for the three-year bronze casting process before the finished product could be erected near Arlington Cemetery. He stored the working model at his studio in Newport, Rhode Island.
Nine years later, rancher and retired Marine Corps Captain William A. Gary founded the Marine Military Academy at Harlingen. He believed that the Marine Corps concepts of leadership and discipline were adaptable to preparatory school education and two years later he and a group for former and retired Marines opened the school, which has since grown in size and stature and fulfilled the high standards set from the beginning. Among its many accomplishments was establishment of the first Marine Corps Junior ROTC unit in the nation. Its finest tribute came in 1981, when Dr. de Weldon gave his Iwo Jima working model to the Academy to stand as an inspiration to young Cadets.
He liked the fairly constant temperature and humidity of the area for the preservation of the molding plaster figures, the fact that the street facing the memorial was named Iwo Jima Blvd, and the Academy is the only place outside 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 who placed the flagpole into the ground was Corporal Harlan H. Block from nearby Weslaco, and the famous quote at the base was spoken by a native of Fredericksburg, Texas, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.
The Admiral said of those fighting men at Iwo Jima, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
While this working model monument takes nothing away from the official memorial in Washington, it commands the same feeling of reverent respect for those who have fought and died for our freedom, and has become a noted attraction in the local region. No public funds were used to pay for this project. All proceeds were from donations.
For additional information about the Marine Military Academy visit http://www.mma-tx.com.