Visiting Winter Texans, Mexico and Iwo Jima Memorial on a Short Stop in Mission TX

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March 24th 2015
Published: April 3rd 2015
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Numerous WW II Artifacts Have Been Donated To The MuseumNumerous WW II Artifacts Have Been Donated To The MuseumNumerous WW II Artifacts Have Been Donated To The Museum

Iwo Jima Museum at the Marine Military Academy - Harlingen TX
My next stop was to be in Mission TX; however, the journey from El Paso TX would be slightly over 12 hours according to MapQuest – that does not accommodate my “cruising speed” of 65 mph instead of the posted 80 mph on Texas’ rural interstate highways, fuel and food stops, one hour each for teardown and setup and the hour lost moving from the Mountain Time Zone to the Central Time Zone. So…. Uncle Larry planned a one night stop at Junction TX – relatively close to the midpoint.

I awoke to a light drizzle on Tuesday, March 17, 2015. That drizzle continued as I tore down my campsite at the Mission RV Park in El Paso and light rain or heavy drizzle continued for about 75 percent of the drive to Morgan Shady Park in Junction TX. The owner of the park assigned me a “pull through” site so I didn’t have to disconnect the truck from the travel trailer. Very convenient and time-saving!

My driving experience on Wednesday was a 180 degree turnaround from that of Tuesday – 75% overcast and 25% drizzle and light rain. Irene, my GPS, didn’t have an exact match for the
Weapons Of the Type Used On Iwo JimaWeapons Of the Type Used On Iwo JimaWeapons Of the Type Used On Iwo Jima

Iwo Jima Museum at the Marine Military Academy - Harlingen TX
address of the Paradise Country RV Park in Mission TX where I had made my reservation, but I eventually found the facility and made my entrance. I found this RV park via my membership in the Passport America discount camping club.

It is ABSOLUTELY the worst member campground I have encountered in over five years of full-time RV travel, but, like my late comic hero George Carlin said, “Somewhere, there is the world’s worst doctor (RV park)!” I made one pass around the looped park drive and departed. A search for a nearby RV park using Irene located the Bentsen Grove Resort only 0.1 miles distant. I registered and set up before calling the girl (yeah, right!) who lived across the street from me as we were growing up in Smalltown U.S.A.

A long story made short proved that she and her husband winter in the same RV park were I had impulsively landed. Go figure! Furthermore, she told me, a younger sister (and husband) to my late friend and former roommate also winter in the same park. Go figure! I called my distant cousin who winters in nearby Donna TX with his wife; however, they already had
Three Of The 27 Marines Awarded The Medal of Honor For Action On Iwo JimaThree Of The 27 Marines Awarded The Medal of Honor For Action On Iwo JimaThree Of The 27 Marines Awarded The Medal of Honor For Action On Iwo Jima

Iwo Jima Museum at the Marine Military Academy - Harlingen TX
returned to Iowa. Go figure!

I hadn’t planned a lot of sightseeing for this abbreviated stay. I originally had planned a four-week stay which treatment for kidney stones had shortened to a two-week stay and finally to this one-week visit. I initially also had planned to attempt contacting some other friends and former co-workers who winter in South Texas – hopefully on a future visit.

I had two attractions high on my “A” list in South Texas. My childhood friend, her husband and I set out on Friday, March 20, 2015 for the first – Smitty's Juke Box Museum in Pharr TX. The address that I had copied and pasted from an Internet list into a spreadsheet was invalid, so we headed for the next attraction. (I later learned that, in spite of what the web page says, Smitty's Juke Box Museum has moved to somewhere in McAllen TX.) Marine Military Academy in Harlingen TX is host to the Iwo Jima Museum and the original full-size plaster model of the famous bronze sculpture located in Washington D.C. Since the museum closes at 4 PM, our time was short so we stopped in the museum first.

This small museum is, as the name
Marine Corporal Harlon H. Block Planting The Staff Atop Mount SuribachiMarine Corporal Harlon H. Block Planting The Staff Atop Mount SuribachiMarine Corporal Harlon H. Block Planting The Staff Atop Mount Suribachi

Iwo Jima Museum at the Marine Military Academy - Harlingen TX
implies, focused on the actions of the United States Marine Corps and its members between February 18 and March 16, 1945 on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima. The Battle of Iwo Jima was a major battle of World War II that found 6,821 Americans and 18,844 Japanese killed in action. A small collection of artifacts is on display along with a diorama and some statistical information. Around the perimeter of one of the exhibit rooms are photographs of Iwo Jima action Medal of Honor recipients from.

The crown jewel of the attraction is the original, full-sized plaster working model of the United States Marine Corps War Memorial (more commonly referred to as the Iwo Jima Memorial). The historic photograph, "Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima," was taken on February 23, 1945 by Joe Rosenthal and depicts five Marines and a U.S. Navy corpsman raising the United States flag atop Mount Suribachi. The photograph became the only photograph to win the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in the same year as its publication, and, ultimately, came to be regarded as one of the most significant and recognizable images of World War II and, possibly, the most reproduced photograph of all time.

When the picture was released, sculptor Dr. Felix W. de Weldon, then on duty with the U.S. Navy, was so moved by the scene that he constructed a scale model within 48 hours. 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 and a half year period, he labored to prepare a working, full sized model from molding plaster.

Once the statue was completed in plaster, it was carefully disassembled and trucked to Brooklyn NY for casting in bronze. After the three-year casting process, the bronze parts were trucked to Washington D.C. On November 10, 1954, the 179th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps, President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially dedicated the bronze memorial in Washington adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery. The plaster working model was moved to Dr. de Weldon’s summer home and studio in Newport RI for storage. In October 1981, Dr. de Weldon gifted his original, full-size working model to the Marine Military Academy.

The 32-foot high figures are erecting a 78-foot steel flagpole from which a cloth flag flies 24 hours a day. The M-1 rifle and the carbine carried by two of the figures are 16 and 12 feet long, respectively. The canteen would hold 32 quarts of water. The base of the memorial is made of black Brazilian granite. Burnished in gold on the granite are the names and dates of every principal Marine Corps engagement since the founding of the Corps, as well as the inscription, “In honor and in memory of the men of the United States Marine Corps who have given their lives for their country since November 10, 1775.”

The figures occupy the same positions as in Rosenthal’s historic photograph. PFC Ira Hayes is the figure farthest from the flagstaff base; PFC Franklin R. Sousley is to the right front of Hayes; Sgt. Michael Strank is on Sousley’s left; PhM 2/C John H. Bradley is in front of Sousley; PFC Rene A. Gagnon is in front of Strank; and Cpl. Harlon H. Block is closest to the bottom of the flagstaff. Block, the Marine placing the flagpole into the ground, was from nearby Weslaco TX and was killed in subsequent action on Iwo Jima on March 1, 1945. Block was originally buried in the 5th Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima. In January 1949, he was re-interred in Weslaco. In 1995, his body was moved to a site adjacent to the Iwo Jima Monument at the Marine Military Academy. The Iwo Jima Museum at the Marine Military Academy is a small jewel that should be of interest to former Marines as well as history and military buffs, and the Iwo Jima Monument should be of interest to everybody who has not had an opportunity to visit the completed sculpture in Washington D.C.

My friend and her husband needed to make a run to Reynosa, Mexico for some supplies that, even after the duty is paid at the border crossing, are cheaper than in the U.S. They invited me to tag along, adding that they have a couple of restaurants they frequent for some good, authentic Mexican food. That was all the incentive I needed to schedule my Sunday! Unfortunately (but intentionally), I left my cell phone/camera at the RV and have no pictures, but Reynosa looks much like the other Mexican border towns I have visited from California and Arizona. We encountered and I was introduced to several people my friend knows who also winter in Bentsen Grove Resort. Some of them make Reynosa a Sunday ritual while in south Texas whereas others were buying last minute supplies before heading north. We had a very enjoyable day.

My friend and I also made an impromptu stop at the winter home of my late friend and former roommate’s younger sister and her husband. We met her husband, swapped contact information and chatted briefly. It was good to see her again.

My stop in south Texas was quite lackluster when compared to my typical week while on “The Great Adventure,” but I had planned to do some reminiscing with my friend anyway (as well as spend some time with my cousin and his wife). Had I landed in a different RV park (where our homes were more distant than a golf cart ride or a short walk apart), I might have spent a little more time exploring surrounding towns and additional attractions; however, I thoroughly enjoyed my stop in south Texas and plan to return – hopefully for a four week stay as I had originally planned for this trip. South Texas is not a “let’s stop in south Texas on the way to XXX” or a “let’s go to XXX via south Texas” place – ya gotta wanna go there to get there! Well, that’s not true if one is driving to some destination in Mexico! LOL Therefore, I cannot say south Texas should be on everybody’s bucket list except bird watchers. South Texas is the bird-watching capital of the U.S. On my next visit, I just might get out my binoculars and spend a little time getting flighty!


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