Due to the fact that Ira Hayes’ story was not completed in the prior article about the flag raisers, we are completing his story today.
Ira Hamilton Hayes is probably the most well-known Marine in the photograph, and for various reasons. Hayes was born Jan. 12, 1923, on a small cotton farm in Sacaton, Arizona.
He was the eldest of six children. His father was a World War I veteran and supported his family by “subsistence” farming and the proceeds from cotton harvesting. Ira’s mother was a Sunday School teacher in Sacaton. His nickname amongst his fellow Pima native Americans was “Chief Falling Cloud.”
According to friends and relatives, Ira was, like his father, a very quiet and shy man who spoke mostly when he was spoken to. He spoke English very well and was a voracious reader. Ira’s family moved to Bapchule, Arizona, in 1932.
Ira attended high school at the Phoenix Indian School in Phoenix. At this school, the students would get a report on the war every morning and would then sing the anthems of the Army, Marines, and the Navy.
Ira finished two years of high school then served in the Civilian Conservation Corps in May and June of 1942. He then joined the Marines in August of 1942. After his basic training, he volunteered and became a Paramarine, receiving his jump wings on Nov. 30, 1942.
Ira sailed for New Caledonia in March and later he was shipped to Guadacanal. Again, another Paramarine Regiment was disbanded. Like others of the flag raisers, Hayes then went to Hawaii to train in September of 1944. He fought in the Bougainville campaign before his involvement in the Iwo Jima campaign. Hayes was a survivor of the Iwo Jima campaign. Reluctantly, Hayes participated in a huge war bond drive after his discharge, per orders from President Roosevelt himself.
Back home in Arizona, Hayes tried to live a normal life, but he was a hero, albeit a reluctant one. He told that people would literally drive through the reservation and ask him “Are you that Indian who raised the flag on Iwo Jima?”
Ira was also very disturbed that his buddy Harlon Block’s name was not listed among the flag raisers. He was so disturbed about this that in 1946, Hayes walked and hitchhiked to Block’s parents’ home, 1,300 miles from his reservation. At this point, Block’s parents wrote to their congressman, thus beginning another investigation into the mis-identified flag raisers.
Ira Hayes suffered from depression as well as “survivor guilt.” Alcohol became his support. He was unable to hold a steady job due to his alcoholism. One of the jobs he held for a short time was being the chauffeur to Dean Martin’s wife!
But, he just couldn’t stop the drinking. He was arrested 52 times in various places and at various times. He was quoted as saying he just couldn’t stop thinking about his buddies who were, as he put it, ‘better men than me and they’re not coming back.” In addition to his fame due to being one of the six flag-raisers on Iwo Jima, he became immortalized in the song “The Ballard of Ira Hayes,” written by folk singer Peter La Farge and made famous by the likes of Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. Ira was also in several films about Iwo Jima.
On the morning of Jan. 24, 1955, Hayes was found dead, passed out and drunk in a ditch where he had fallen the night before. His legacy now embraces the lyrics about “Drunken Ira Hayes” as in, “Then Ira started drinking 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 early one mornin’, Alone in the land he fought to save, two inches of water in a lonely ditch was a grave for Ira Hayes.”