Ira Hamilton Hayes is a full blood Pima Indian and was born in Sacaton, Arizona, on the Pima Reservation on Jan 12, 1923. His parents Joe E. and Nancy W. Hayes were both farming people.
Ira Hayes was a noted World War ll hero. Although he had a normal childhood on his reservation, his life changed dramatically when war broke out and he joined the Marine Corps. After he completed courses under the U.S. Marine Corps Parachutist School at San Diego, California. He was lovingly dubbed "Chief Falling Cloud." Ira Hayes was assigned to a parachute battalion of the fleet Marine Force.
By the beginning of 1945, he was part of the American invasion force that attacked the Japanese stronghold of Iwo Jima. On Feb. 23, 1945 to signal the end of Japanese control, Hayes and five other's raised the U. S. flag atop Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima. Three of the six men were killed while raising the flag. This heroic act was photographed by Joe Rosenthal, and it transformed Ira Hayes' life for ever. Subsequently a commemorative postage stamp was created as well as bronze statue in Washington DC.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the brave survivors of the flag raising back to the United States to aid a war bond drive. They were shuttled from one city to another for publicity purposes with questionable sincerity on the part of the American military. Ira Hayes asked to be sent back to the front lines, stating that "sometimes I wish that guy had never made that picture".
At the conclusion of World War ll he returned to his reservation, disillusioned by what he felt was unwarranted adoration. He began to drink heavily resulting from well-meaning friends offering drink's in their appreciation of his "Heroism".
For the next few years Ira Hayes was a drifter, drinker and loner. He never married, was often arrested for public drunkenness and was filled with despair over the plight of his people. He had been wined and dined by the rich and powerful, had been immortalized in American history but he was still no more than an Indian on a dried up Reservation now that he'd come home. There was still no water, no crops and no hope for a better life for the Pima or him. All this time he still struggled with his own inability to reconcile himself as being worthy of the fame he'd received for simply being one of the lucky ones who lived through such a horrible war. Ira never saw his military service as any more than just being an "Honorable Warrior."
In 1954, Ira Hayes attended the dedication ceremony in Washington, D. C. for the Iwo Jima Memorial. This monument was a bronze cast replica of the now famous photograph of the flag raising, created by Felix DeWeldon. Within 10 weeks of this celebration Ira Hamilton Hayes would be dead at age 33. After another night of drinking and still lamenting over his fallen "buddies", Ira fell drunk in an irrigation ditch and froze to death, alone and forgotten by a country that had called him a hero. The ditch where he died was the single source of water that was provided for his people by the same government he'd proudly served.