Ira Hayes, An Arizona Pima Native, A Marine WWII Hero

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Ira Hayes was born into a Presbyterian Family in Sacaton, Arizona, on the Pima Indian Reservation south of Chandler, east of now I-10 in 1923. In 1942 Ira joined the Marines and became a paratrooper, graduating from Parachute Training School in November 1942.

After several assignments fighting the Japanese, he helped capture Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima. Ira was one of the six Marines that raised the Stars and Stripes on Mount Suribachi on February 28, 1945. An AP photographer took the photo of the flag raising which became one of the most published front cover photos on magazines during the war.

One of the six Marines was Harlon Black who was killed on Iwo Jima in March 1945. (Remember this for more details later in the story).

Ira and two flag raisers were sent to Washington D.C. per President Roosevelt to promote the sale of war bonds to help pay for the war. People would recognize Ira and, “Come on, let me buy you a drink”. For several years an Indian could not buy alcohol. Like many white people, they could not hold the spirits but that did not stop them from using alcohol.

Ira was discharged from active duty December 1, 1945 and returned to the Pima Reservation and attempted to lead a normal civilian life. “I kept getting hundreds of letters, people would drive through the reservation, walk up to me and ask, “Are you the Indian who raised the flag on Iwo Jima?”. So use your imagination for the next gesture.” Ira rarely spoke about the flag raising, but talked more about his service as a Marine with great pride. Ira was bothered mentally about his buddies that never made it back stateside alive.

Ira was disturbed that Harlon Block was misrepresented in the flag raising photo with another name. He walked and hitchhiked 1,300 miles to Weslaco, Texas from the Gila River Indian Community to Edward Block’s (Harlon’s father) farm to reveal the truth about their son. The Blocks were grateful for Ira’s efforts. They and Ira were instrumental in getting the mistake resolved by the Marine Corps in 1947.

In 1949 Ira appeared as himself in the Sands of Iwo Jima with John Wayne. After this, Ira was unable to hold a job for a long period as he had become an alcoholic. He was arrested 52 times for intoxication.

Over 100 years ago the Gila River Pima Reservation farmed with water from the Gila river, which comes from the Arizona eastern state line with New Mexico and flows into the Colorado near Yuma. White man constructed Coolidge Dam southeast of Globe in 1924-1928 and dried up the farms on the Gila reservation. The tribe raised hay and grain, selling it to the U.S. Army Cavalry for their horses. The tribe was fighting for water so they sent Ira to Washington D.C. to represent the tribe for water. According to the movie “The Outsider”, Ira got drunk and missed the water appointment. Returning to the reservation the tribe disowned him because he had let the tribe down. Then he ran for tribal council and lost.

Now some Johnson history. My father and I had a family small dairy. We had a radio in the milk barn. Every morning at 6:15, station KOY called the Arizona Highway Patrol, M.C.S.O. and Phoenix Police for a night’s action report. One night in January 1955, on it was cold in the open milk barn. So cold the cows should have produced milk-cicles from their teats instead of warm milk. The news come on that Ira Hayes was found dead from exposer on the cold night in the Gila Reservation. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Sometime later, the surviving family members were sent to Arlington for the Memorial Day Services. Ira’s mother said, “This will be a better trip in warmer weather (May)”. Ira was buried February 2, 1955, and it was cold. “Ira did not like cold weather.”

I feel the movie title, “The Outsider” with Tony Curtis was a slap in the face for Ira’s survivors. Our church secretary, Kira, found about 20 pages on the life of Ira. Toward the end of the article on Ira’s life, the story dwells on his problem with alcohol and sometimes my mind drifts away from IRA, AS A MARINE HERO to the tribe’s “Outsider”. I look at the movie title meaning. Ira was a failure and was put outside of the tribe’s daily life. That is my opinion. Think about it.

In closing, I wrote this article about a Presbyterian family member, Arizona Native that served his country in World War II. For the surviving family members of Ira in both of the movies and the life story that Kira found on the computer, would it have been better not to make an issue of Ira’s alcohol problem?

The movie title “THE OUTSIDER”, leaves I my mind that Ira was socially disowned by the tribe. Even if it was true, what good does it do to list Ira’s faults. I would feel better to remember Ira as a WWII hero and not an alcoholic. And probably Ira’s family DID NOT need to be reminded of Ira’s downfall. That is my opinion. Think about it.

Ira, like thousands of other men and women, fought for the freedom that we enjoy. Many lost limbs or even their lives for the American people and it is appreciated today.

Categories: Newsletter

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