In Memory of Harlon

painting of flag raising on Iwo Jima

I’ve spent this Memorial Day reading Flags of Our Fathers, stunned by the unimaginable horrors experienced by those who fought on Iwo Jima. This painting, which is based on the famous photograph of the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi, hangs in the Weslaco Museum. Weslaco, Texas, was home to the young man on the far right, the one anchoring the base of the pole. His name was Harlon Block. When his mother first saw the original photograph, she immediately knew it was her son, although it was several years before he was correctly identified officially. After the war, the man on the far left, Ira Hayes, hitchhiked from Arizona to south Texas to tell Harlon’s family what his mother had known all along–it really was him. She had changed too many diapers not to recognize her son’s rear end.

Harlan Block, U.S. Marine

The battle for Iwo Jima lasted more than a month and most of it occurred after the raising of the American flag. The Japanese were entrenched in an extensive system of underground pillboxes and tunnels, and they fought to the death, refusing to surrender. More than 26,000 American men were killed or injured on the tiny island.

Harlon had entered the battle with the distinct impression that he would not survive. He had shared this presentiment with multiple friends and two of his siblings while he was on leave. They tried to encourage him and convince him otherwise, but the feeling never left him. Turns out he was right–six days after the flag-raising, he was killed in action.

Harlon had been a high school football standout. His letter sweater, shown below, is also on display at the museum. The Weslaco Panthers were conference champions his senior year, and all thirteen of the senior football players enlisted in the Marines in January 1943. The school held a special midyear graduation ceremony before they left for the war.Harlon Block's football letter sweater

One of his senior teammates, Leo LaDuke, was the younger brother of my great-aunt, Golda LaDuke Roberts. She is shown below, pointing to Leo’s photo at the Weslaco Museum, of which she was a tireless supporter. When Harlon insisted that he wouldn’t be coming back home, Leo promised to name his son after him. And he did.

Golda Roberts shows her brother Leo LaDuke's photo at the Weslaco Museum

After the war, Harlon’s body was brought back to Weslaco. Later, his remains were moved to the Marine Military Academy in nearby Harlingen, where he lies near the Iwo Jima memorial monument that was fashioned after the famous flag-raising photo. The makeshift cemetery on Iwo Jima where he and more than 6,000 fellow Marines were first buried bore this inscription:

When you go home

Tell them for us and say

For your tomorrow

We gave our today

Spring at Gibbs Gardens

I lived in Ball Ground, Georgia, for eight years and my parents lived there for eighteen, but during that time, we had no idea that Gibbs Gardens was being planned and planted just a few miles farther out in the country. Right down the road from Stancil’s Store, as a matter of fact. We used to visit that old general store at the corner of Conns Creek Road and Yellow Creek Road on the occasional Saturday morning. We’d walk through the stacks of Liberty overalls and always take home a freshly cut slab of hoop cheese. Mmmmm…

Stancil’s Store is now closed up tight, but we pass the old building on our way to see Jim Gibbs’ labor of love, more than thirty years in the making. It’s the largest daffodil garden outside of Holland and the largest Japanese garden in America. And it has officially put Ball Ground on the map…hardly anyone has ever heard of it before now.

We marvel at the myriad of languages we hear around us. It’s unbelievable that the world now comes to Ball Ground. When I lived here, the post office was my window to the world. I had penpals all over the globe, and the 2-block walk to the post office was the highlight of every day. But now I hear languages I don’t even recognize…here in Ball Ground, of all places.

Gibbs Gardens is about an hour north of Atlanta. If you have a chance to visit, it’s definitely worth the trip. Regardless of the season, there’s plenty of beauty to behold. Get more information and find out what’s blooming here. The scenes of heaven in the movie Miracles from Heaven were filmed here…it’s not hard to see why.

You’ll work up an appetite exploring the gardens, so be sure to stop for lunch or supper at a true Ball Ground landmark, Two Brothers Barbecue. There are lots of food options in town now, but Two Brothers used to be just about the only choice. Dusty antiques still line the walls, although there’s no longer sawdust covering the floors. (Perhaps the health department put a stop to that?) It’s local flavor at its best–just be prepared to eat your barbecue sandwich with a fork. Enjoy!