Published on March 8, 2011 by Aquarius
Ira Hamilton Hayes (January 12, 1923 – January 24, 1955) was a Pima Native American and a American Marine who was one of the six men immortalized in the iconic photograph of the flag raising on Iwo Jima during World War II. Hayes was an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community in Sacaton, Arizona, and enlisted in the Marine Forces Reserve on August 24, 1942. He trained as a Paramarine and saw action in the Pacific Theatre of World War II. On February 19, 1945, Hayes participated in the landing at Iwo Jima and fought in the subsequent battle for the island. On February 23, Hayes, together with fellow Marines Rene Gagnon, Harlon Block, Franklin Sousley, and Mike Strank, and Navy Corpsman John Bradley, raised the American flag over Mount Suribachi, an event photographed by Joe Rosenthal.
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As a result of Rosenthal’s photograph Hayes and the others became national heroes in the United States. He was instrumental in confirming the identity of one of his fellow Marines in the photograph, Harlon Block. Hayes was never comfortable with his new-found fame, however, and after his honorable discharge from the Marine Corps he descended into alcoholism. He died of exposure and alcohol poisoning on January 24, 1955 after a night of drinking, and was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Hayes was often commemorated in art and film, both before and after his death. He is depicted in the Marine Corps War Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, based on the famous photograph, and he portrayed himself in the 1949 film Sands of Iwo Jima. His tragic story was the subject of the 1961 film The Outsider, and inspired Peter La Farge’ song “The Ballad of Ira Hayes”. He was also depicted in the 2006 film Flags of Our Fathers.