Ira Hayes was one of the six American Marines made famous by the photograph taken of them putting a flag up on Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima during World War II. This photo, taken by Joseph Rosenthal, was used as the basis for the giant bronze statue now found in Arlington, Virginia commemorating the Iwo Jima.
Ira Hayes was a full blood Pima Indian and was born in Sacaton, Arizona, on the Pima Reservation on Jan 12, 1923. He died of acute alcoholism in a cotton field on the reservation on a night in January 1955. He lay all night on the cold ground and death was attributed to "exposure." What happened in between the raising of the flag and then is what is truyl interesting.
He had served throughout the South Pacific, fighting at Vella Lavella and Bougainville before coming up to Iwo Jima, where he served for thirty-six days and came out unwounded. After the flag-raising incident he and two of his buddies were brought back to the United States to travel extensively in support of the seventh war loan.
Hayes was reluctant to return home, but he was given no choice. That started a round of speaking engagements, parades, ticker tape -- and people offering hospitality. The hospitality, unfortunately, invariably included free liquor, and Ira drank greedily. It was the quickest way to blur the painful, heedless publicity to which he was subjected. Some have even suggested he turned to alcohol to dull the pain of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
What brought his name to light was a song written by Peter LaFarge, The Ballad of Ira Hayes. Both Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash had made this song well known.
Ultimately he is an interesting symbol of both Native Americans and veterans.