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Ira Hayes--Interesting, tragic facts about aTragic Hero of Iwo Jima who was played by Tony Curtis in movie

Updated on October 9, 2015

Flag Raising

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Tombstone

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

The Reluctant Hero


Ira Hayes was a Pima Indian who fought as a Marine in World War II. He is one of the Marines shown in the famous flag raising at Iwo Jima, An ex-marine told me that what happened to Ira Hayes is now part of Marine Corp. history taught to new recruits. He said that Ira was just one of them that were arbitrarily picked to be in the picture.

I first became aware of the story of Ira Hayes when I saw the movie based on his life starring Tony Curtis. Unlikely casting, I thought, since Tony Curtis hardly looks like an Indian but I think he did a credible job of it.

Ira Hayes was a Pima Indian born in Sacaton, Arizona on January 12, 1923. The family moved a few years later to Bapchule. Both were within the boundaries of the Gila River Indian Reservation located in south central Arizona. After two years of high school he quit and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in May and June of 1942, and then went to work as a carpenter.

He enlisted in the Marine Corps reserve in August of 1942. After he finished boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at San Diego, he was assigned to the Parachute Training School at Camp Gillespie, Marine Corps Base, San Diego. In December he joined Company B. 3d Parachute Battalion at Camp Elliot, California.

Hayes, after 11 months overseas and two campaigns were ordered back to the United States. The parachute units were disbanded and Hayes was assigned to Company E at Camp Pendleton, California.

Hayes was in Iwo Jima on D-Day, February 19, 1945, and fought there until March 26.
He was one of the marines in the flag raising picture that became an icon of the war.

Ira Hayes played himself in the John Wayne film “Sands of Iwo Jima.” Lee Marvin played him in a 1960 telefilm “The American.” Tony Curtis played him in the film the outsider. Adam Beach played him in 2006 movie “Flags of our Fathers.”

A normal life was not to be for Ira. He was proud of his Marine Corp. service but was embarrassed by being a hero. He was bothered by people coming to the reservation and asking him about Iwo Jima. He felt bad about his friends who were killed in the war. A reporter asked him how he liked the pomp and ceremony and he said that he didn’t. Because he was Indian he was expected to be an Indian hero and he didn’t feel up to representing his people. He took to drinking and died a sad and lonely death from alcohol and exposure.

Ballad of Ira Hayes written by Peter LaFarge.

Call him drunken Ira Hayes

He won't answer anymore

Not the whiskey drinkin' Indian
Nor the Marine that went to war


Peter LaFarge

Peter LaFarge was a folksinger and songwriter of the 1950s and 1960s who is best know for his affiliations with Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash.

He is said o be descended from a nearly extinct Narragansett Indian tribe. When young he was a rodeo rider, served in the Navy during the Korean War In 1965 he became known as an artist and painter.

He wrote the song about Ira Hayes. He died in 1965

Ira Hayes sung by Johnnie Cash

© 2009 Don A. Hoglund

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    • profile image

      Kinghorn 7 years ago

      Fame may be bad, whether it was sought or not.

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting. I tend to agree.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What a sad story ending for a nice sounding guy who did his duty to help defend America.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Very true. The song has always brought an emotional response in me. It also seems to show some of the emotional conflicts Indians may feel.

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Very interesting info you've turned out dahoglund.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      mythbuster

      Thanks for reading. I'm glad you found it interesting.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thank you for this educational informative article; I listened to the Johnny Cash song "Ira Hayes" many times and I saw the move years ago, but this article helped to pull it together. I have never heard of Peter LaFarge till i read this Hub; thank you for introducing him to me.

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I used to have a tape with LaFarges singing the song but the tape broke. Cash's version is better known. Thanks for commenting. Ity is sort of funny that I was taking a course in Indian History and the Professor wanted a copy of the song. I made a tape with the Cash version for him with some notesw. To my surprise he read the notes in class and soon everyone was asking me questions like I was some sort of expert on Ira Hayes.

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      Broadway Tour 6 years ago

      really well written hub. Cos of people like you i don't buy magazines. I love to stumble upon such stories and delight myself reading such hubs on my lazy summer afternoon. Cheers !

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting.I appreciate that you thought it well written.

    • ahorseback profile image

      ahorseback 6 years ago

      Daholund , have you seen the new movie about Iwo Jima, came out a couple years ago, good movie ,great hub!

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      No I haven't seen it although I think I have seen promo for it.Thanks for the positive comment.

    • profile image

      Derdriu 4 years ago

      DAHoglund, It's the Adam Beach version of Ira Hayes' life that I've seen. It's sad when countries don't do a better job of caring for and thanking their heroes, particularly those who've kept us all safe during the dangerous times of declared and undeclared wars.

      In particular, I like your mentioning Peter LaFarge since his songwriting is one of the reasons that people still know about Ira. Also, I like your starting the article out with Ira's tombstone.

      Shared.

      Respectfully, and with many thanks, Derdriu

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Derdriu, I learned from a co-worker several years ago, who had been a marine,. that the Ira Hayes story is part of the Marine Corps record and taught to new marines. I think I ran across a reference to LaFarge as the writer and looked him up. I do like his version of the song.

      Thanks for reading and sharing the hub.

    • mitchbastid profile image

      Mitch 4 years ago

      Best portrayal of Hayes on screen was by Lee Marvin in 1960. As far as Tony Curtis not looking like an Indian, well, he was one of a long line of Jews playing indians on screen.

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      mitchbastid, I am not familiar with the Lee Marvin film. I didn't know tony curtis was Jewish. I thought he was Italian. Thanks for commenting.

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      Lmiguel 6 months ago

      I am a member of the Gila River Indian community. I actually live in the district that ira hayes is from,D5. We as gila river pimas are very proud of ira hayes. We revere him as a hero. I thank the article writer on being honest and fair when writing about our tribal member. There have been articles over the yrs that have portrayed ira as just another drunken indian. We have no idea what he and his comrades had gone thru. Perhaps we would have turned to the bottle ad well. I pray that in death ira has found peace and tranquility he so deserved.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Lmiguel

      Thank you for commenting. I believe Ira Hayes is a tragic example of insensitivity of those in authority who meant well but lacked understanding. He served the country but was probably unprepared for the stresses and demands of being a public "hero".

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