Ira Hayes

From Academic Kids

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Ira Hayes

Ira Hayes (January 12, 1923 - January 24, 1955) was a Native American hero of World War II's Battle of Iwo Jima.

Born on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Arizona, a full-blooded member of the Pima nation, Hayes left school in 1942 to enlist in the Marines. Trained as a paratrooper, he was nicknamed Chief Falling Cloud. After bootcamp, Hayes was sent to the Pacific. He participated in the battle for the island of Iwo Jima, beginning on February 19, 1945, and was among the group of Marines that took Mount Suribachi four days later, on February 23, 1945. The raising of the American flag on the mountain by five Marines and a Navy Corpsman was immortalized by photographer Joe Rosenthal and became an icon of the war. Overnight, Hayes (who appears on the far left of the photograph) became a national hero, along with the two other survivors of the famous photograph, Rene Gagnon and John Bradley. Hayes's story drew particular attention because of his Native American background.


Post World-War II

Missing image
(Joe Rosenthal / Associated Press)
Marines raising the Flag on Iwo Jima
( / )A photo colorized to show all six men - Ira Hayes (red),  (violet),  (green),  (yellow),  (brown),  (teal)
(Joe Rosenthal / Associated Press)
A photo colorized to show all six men - Ira Hayes (red), Franklin Sousley (violet), John Bradley (green), Harlon Block (yellow), Michael Strank (brown), Rene Gagnon (teal)

After the war, Hayes attempted to lead an anonymous life. But it didn't turn out that way. "I kept getting hundreds of letters. And people would drive through the reservation, walk up to me and ask, 'Are you the Indian who raised the flag on Iwo Jima'?"

Referring to his drinking he once said: "I was sick. I guess I was about to crack up thinking about all my good buddies. They were better men than me and they're not coming back. Much less back to the White House, like me." After the war, Hayes accumulated some fifty arrests for drunkenness.

In 1954, after a ceremony where he was lauded by President Eisenhower as a hero, a reporter rushed up to him and asked him, "How do you like the pomp & circumstances?" Hayes just hung his head and said, "I don't."

On January 24, 1955, Ira Hayes was found dead near an abandoned hut close to his home on the Gila River Indian Reservation. He had been drinking and playing cards with several other men, including his brothers Kenny and Vernon, and another fellow Pima named Henry Setoyant. The coroner concluded that Ira's death was due to exposure and too much alcohol. However, Ira's brother Kenny remained convinced that Ira's death somehow resulted from a scuffle with Setoyant. Ira was 32.

He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. At the funeral, fellow flag-raiser Rene Gagnon said of Ira: "Let's say he had a little dream in his heart that someday the Indian would be like the white man--be able to walk all over the United States."


The tragic story of his life was immortalized in a song, "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," by Peter LaFarge and performed by Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan.

Call him drunken Ira Hayes
He won't answer anymore
Not the whiskey drinkin' Indian
Nor the Marine that went to war
Gather round me people there's a story I would tell
About a brave young Indian you should remember well
From the land of the Pima Indian
A proud and noble band
Who farmed the Phoenix valley in Arizona land
Down the ditches for a thousand years
The water grew Ira's peoples' crops
'Till the white man stole the water rights
And the sparklin' water stopped
Now Ira's folks were hungry
And their land grew crops of weeds
When war came, Ira volunteered
And forgot the white man's greed
There they battled up Iwo Jima's hill,
Two hundred and fifty men
But only twenty-seven lived
To walk back down again
And when the fight was over
And when Old Glory raised
Among the men who held it high
Was the Indian, Ira Hayes
Ira returned a hero
Celebrated through the land
He was wined and speeched and honored;
Everybody shook his hand
But he was just a Pima Indian
No water, no crops, no chance
At home nobody cared what Ira'd done
And when did the Indians dance
Then Ira started drinkin' hard;
Jail was often his home
They'd let him raise the flag and lower it
like you'd throw a dog a bone!
He died drunk one mornin'
Alone in the land he fought to save
Two inches of water in a lonely ditch
Was a grave for Ira Hayes
Yeah, call him drunken Ira Hayes
But his land is just as dry
And his ghost is lyin' thirsty
In the ditch where Ira died

On November 10, 1993, the U.S. Marine Corps held a ceremony at the Iwo Jima Memorial commemorating the 218th anniversary of the Corps. Of Ira Hayes, USMC Commandant General Carl Mundy said:

"One of the pairs of hands that you see outstretched to raise our national flag on the battle-scarred crest of Mount Suribachi so many years ago, are those of a native American ... Ira Hayes ... a Marine not of the ethnic majority of our population.
Were Ira Hayes here today ... I would tell him that although my words on another occasion have given the impression that I believe some Marines ... because of their color ... are not as capable as other Marines ... that those were not the thoughts of my mind ... and that they are not the thoughts of my heart.
I would tell Ira Hayes that our Corps is what we are because we are of the people of America ... the people of the broad, strong, ethnic fabric that is our nation. And last, I would tell him that in the future, that fabric will broaden and strengthen in every category to make our Corps even stronger ... even of greater utility to our nation. That's a commitment of this commandant ... And that's a personal commitment of this Marine."

Monuments and memorials

See also

External links


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