War hero and educator Glen Cleckler dies at 91

HARLINGEN — The last survivor of a group of Valley men who fought in World War II has died at the age of 91. Glen “Doc” Cleckler died Tuesday in the Valley.

He was a childhood friend Harlon Block, one of the men photographed raising the American flag at Iwo Jima. It is considered one of the most famous pictures ever taken.

Last year, Cleckler was featured in a national news story about his friendship with Block and the rest of his Weslaco High School teammates, their service during World War II and the famous picture.

Cleckler, Block and another Weslaco High School friend volunteered for the U.S. Marine Corps 14 months after the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

The school allowed the students to graduate early, at mid-term, so they could join the Marines.

There was a special graduation ceremony with the entire school there, and Cleckler gave a short, impromptu speech.

Cleckler and Block would meet again in Hawaii, as they were both about to be shipped out, and would eventually serve together at the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Just days before Block was killed, he asked Cleckler to take his Marine Corps ring and give it to his mother.

Cleckler would go on to fight on Iwo Jima, but he didn’t learn of Block’s death until he received a letter from home with the news.

The news was disheartening, but not unexpected.

“Death was a common occurrence,” Cleckler said in a May 2009 interview with the Valley Morning Star. “It could be me now and you in a minute.”

True to his word, Cleckler went to see Block’s mother in Weslaco when he returned to the Valley.

“When I gave it to her, she said, ‘I don’t want that ring. You’re his best friend — you keep it.’ “

More than 64 years later, Cleckler continued to wear the ring. He also carried two photos in his pocket — a portrait of Block and a photo showing the two buddies with other members of the Weslaco football team receiving their letter jackets.

He donated the ring to the Marine Military Academy museum in 2010.

Cleckler was a longtime educator in Harlingen and Alamo before retiring in 1987.

He served as a coach and assistant principal at Harlingen High School, principal at Vernon Junior High, and principal at Alamo 9th Grade.