HERMISTON -He stood proud as Lt. Col. Fred Pellissier's fingers fumbled with the clasp of the Purple Heart.

Former U.S. Marine Sgt. Harold Neil Block, 80, of Hermiston, had waited 57 years for the medal he earned after spending nearly a month on the front lines of Iwo Jima before being shot in the right shoulder during World War II.

He wasn't going to hurry the commander of the Umatilla Chemical Depot Sunday night at the Veterans of Foreign Wars dinner at the Hermiston Senior Center as the commander carefully pinned the medal on his left breastpocket.

A few more minutes weren't going to make much of a difference.

More than a year ago, longtime coffee buddy Carry Sherrow was reading a news story about men and women coming home from Afghanistan and receiving their Purple Hearts.

That's when Block mentioned that he never did receive his Purple Heart after he was wounded on March 14, 1945, Sherrow said.

Block enlisted in the U.S. Marines in Portland in January 1942, less than four weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He served in the Pacific Theater from October of that year until April 1945, participating in the raid of Choisaul in the British Solomon Islands.

Block also was in the first wave to hit the artillery-barraged beach of Iwo Jima, where the battle lasted 36 days and killed 6,821 American troops - including several in his company.

The Marines suffered more than 26,000 casualties in the battle and nearly all the 23,000 Japanese troops defending the island were killed.

It was there that he was hit by gunfire.

Sherrow knew that the Purple Heart that Block never received needed to get to him for his heroism.

Sherrow called Sen. Ron Wyden's office to discover how Block, who proudly watched his fellow Marines raise the American flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima, could receive the medal he so deserved.

"He never really talked about it," said his wife, Grace Block. "I'm really pleased and proud of him, and proud of all of the veterans."

Block partially blamed himself for the delay, he said, adding that he had to apply for it himself.

But it wasn't until two weeks ago that he, his wife and Sherrow learned that his Purple Heart was headed to him.

"Someone must have done something considerable to receive a Purple Heart," Pellissier said. "It took a lot of people and work to make sure that everything was legitimate. ... There are very few things that I enjoy doing as much as honoring soldiers and giving them their medals. This was a wonderful honor."

It was such an honor that a television crew from the "Today Show" spent the weekend with the Blocks for a segment that aired this morning.

Sunday night's pinning ceremony brought almost 60 years of waiting and wondering to a close.

"I don't know why they didn't just mail it to me," he said.

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