Skip to content

Ira Hayes (1923 – 1955)

October 1, 2012

Ira Hamilton Hayes, a Pima Native American, was born in 1923.  His father Joseph was a

World War I veteran who supported the family with subsistence farming.  His mother Nancy

Hamilton Hayes was a devout Presbyterian and Sunday school teacher.


Ira was an exceptionally quiet child, although precocious.  He learned to read and write

by age four, and had an impressive command of English, which many Pimas did not speak.

He graduated from Phoenix Indian School in June 1942 and joined the Marine Corps two

months later.


He trained as a paratrooper.  His code name was “Chief Falling Cloud”.  After the Marine

parachute units were disbanded, Hayes agreed to a second tour of duty.  In February of

1945, his division fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima.  When the Marines took Mount Suribachi,

Hayes — along with fellow Leathernecks Harlon Block, Rene Gagnon, Franklin Sousley, Mike

Strank and Navy corpsman John Bradley — raised a large U.S. flag.


The photo of this by Joe Rosenthal is one of the most iconic in American history.  When

President Franklin Roosevelt saw it, he ordered Hayes, Bradley and Gagnon home to sell

war bonds as heroes.  Block, Sousley and Strank died on Iwo Jima.


Hayes didn’t want any of the limelight.  He told Gagnon, whom he hated, not to identify him

in the shot or he’d kill him.  Gagnon initially refused to name him, but relented under direct

orders of FDR.  Gagnon and Bradley misidentified Block.  When Hayes tried to correct this,

he was told to keep quiet about it.


He rarely spoke about the flag raising after the war, although he was proud of his service

in the Marines.  Bothered that his friend Harlon Block did not receive credit for being in the

famous photo, he hitchhiked 1300 miles to tell Block’s family about the mistake.  Block’s

mother Belle wrote her congressman and the controversy was eventually rectified.


Hayes, Gagnon and Bradley appeared as themselves in the 1949 film Sands of Iwo Jima,

which starred John Wayne.  Hayes was portrayed in the 1960 telefilm The American by Lee

Marvin and in the 1961 theatrical film The Outsider by Tony Curtis.  In the 2006 film Flags

of Our Fathers, Adam Beach of the Saulteaux First Nati0n played him.


After his brief fame, Hayes sank into obscurity and alcoholism.  He was arrested 52 times for

public drunkeness.  “I was sick,” he once said, “I guess I was about to crack up thinking about

all my good buddies.  They were better men than me and they’re not coming back.  Much less

back to the White House like me.”


Flags of Our Fathers implies that Hayes suffered from PTSD.


On January 24, 1955, he was found dead in his own blood and vomit near an abandoned adobe

hut in his hometown of Sacaton, Arizona.  He had died of exposure and alcohol poisoning.  He

did not freeze on a montain top, as shown in The Outsider.


Hayes was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  At his funeral, Rene Gagnon eulogized “let’s

say he had a little dream in his heart that someday the Indian would be like the white man — be

able to walk all over the United States.”

  1. Gordon permalink
    October 1, 2012 2:19 pm

    I’m guessing Flags of our Fathers was a little more accurate in depicting his death.

    • October 2, 2012 8:27 am

      I believe that Flags and Letters from Iwo Jima are quite accurate. The two films are an impressive set of work from a man who now raves at empty chairs.

  2. Inveterate Teacher permalink
    October 2, 2012 9:25 am

    So he joined the Marines at age 10, and died at 23? Serving in the military at age 10 seems unusual even for 1942.

    • Gordon permalink
      October 2, 2012 12:30 pm

      Picky, picky, picky. What’s a reversed 2 and 3 among friends in a birthdate? I keep trying to get folks to reverse the last two numbers in my birthyear but to no avail. I’m counting on Allen to do my bio one of these days.

      • October 3, 2012 8:43 am

        Sorry, Gordie. Transposing the last two numbers in your birth year still keeps you in the Baby Boomer era. We’ll massage that a bit in your bio.

    • October 3, 2012 8:39 am

      Oh, teacher, my teacher — you who have counseled me on matters metaphysical for lo, these many years — thank you for correcting me on matters mathematical. The egregious error has been tended to, and once again I am awed by your vast knowledge, which dwarfs my half-vast knowledge.

      • Inveterate Teacher permalink
        October 3, 2012 10:23 am

        You flatter me way too much…

        On a different subject– last night I saw a rattlesnake—in my living room! It was a baby, only about 10-12 inches long, but still…. Snakes truly can be charmed with a sing-song mesmerizing voice. With that and a prod from a yardstick, I steered it into a plastic container and released it outdoors. I felt my warrior energies come forward; you and Ira would have been proud. I’m only telling this tale because the heebie-jeebie energy residues are still with me this morning and I thought sharing the story would help. Also helpful, a temporary fix by duct-taping the bottom of the sunroom door where it probably came into the house, then into the living room when I opened the sunroom sliders to go there and water plants.

        Shake, rattle, and roll…xo, IT

      • October 4, 2012 8:13 am

        I AM proud of you, like I always am. I’m not sure a foot-long snake is a baby, even if it does have a rattle. What song off the CD did you use to mesmerize it? Extra points for the use of duct tape, the male answer to every problem.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: