Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
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
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.
- Well, they battled up Iwo Jima hill -- two hundred and fifty men,
- But only twenty-seven lived -- to walk back down again;
- When the fight was over -- and Old Glory raised
- Among the men who held it high was the Indian -- Ira Hayes.
Monuments and memorials
- The rearmost figure in the Iwo Jima memorial.
- Hayes Peak, the northernmost mountain in the Sierra Estrella.
- The Outsider (1961), starring Tony Curtis as Ira Hayes.
- The Ballad of Ira Hayes (1964), written by Peter LaFarge , performed by Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan.
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