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Ira Hayes

Ira Hayes

The Akimel O'odham Warrior, World War II, and the Price of Heroism

by Tom Holm


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The gripping, forgotten tale of Ira Hayes—a Native American icon and World War II legend who famously helped raise the flag at Iwo Jima but spent the latter half of his life haunted by being a war hero.

Ira Hayes tells the story of Ira Hamilton Hayes from the perspective of a Native American combat veteran of the Vietnam generation. Hayes, along with five other Marines, was captured in Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photograph of raising the stars and stripes on Mount Suribachi during the battle for the Japanese Island of Iwo Jima. The photograph was the inspiration and model for the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington.

Between the time he helped raise that flag and his death—and beyond—he was the subject of more newspaper columns than any other Native person. He was hailed as a hero and maligned as a chronic alcoholic unable to take care of himself. Ira Hayes explores these fluctuating views of Ira Hayes. It reveals that they were primarily the product of American misconceptions about Native people, the nature of combat, and even alcoholism. Like most surviving veterans of combat, Ira did not think of himself as a heroic figure. There can be no doubt that Ira suffered from PTSD, which is a compound of survivor’s guilt, the shock of seeing death, especially of one’s friends, and the isolation brought on by feeling that no one could understand what he had been through. Ira’s life has been a subject of two motion pictures and a television drama. All these dramas sympathize with him, but ultimately fail to see his binge drinking as his way of temporarily escaping the melancholy, the rage he felt, his sense of betrayal, and the sheer boredom of peacetime.

Ira Hayes breaks apart the complexities of Ira’s short life in honor of all Native veterans who have been to war in the service of the United States. This is equally their story.

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