As I sit here, in my comfortable (and warm!) domicile on a cold Arizona’s Centennial & St. Valentines’ Day evening, attempting to write about these Arizonan and American heroes, I realize just how great these outstanding Arizonans are/were. I physically comfortably listen to Johnny Cash’s “Ballad of Ira Hayes” and uncomfortably think about the entire difficult life of this outstanding Arizonan.
Ira Hayes was a Pima Indian, born and raised on the Gila River Indian Reservation near Sacaton, AZ (exit off of I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix) and Bapchule, AZ. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1942 and graduated the especially difficult Marine Corps Parachutist School. He fought in the Vella Lavella campaign and the very perilous Bougainville campaign. His next combat tour was Iwo Jima is considered the most, or one of the most difficult and deadly campaigns in the history of the USMC.
PFC (at the time) Ira Hayes gained fame while on Iwo Jima when he, along with Sgt Michael Strank, Cpl Harlon Block, PFC Franklin Sousley, PFC Rene Gagnon, and US Navy Medical Corpsman PM2 John Bradley raised an extremely large US flag on Mt. Suribachi. The large flag atop the highest point on the island rallied Americans and hurt the moral of the Japanese. AP photographer Joe Rosenthal captured that iconic moment in an instant (an earlier smaller flag raising was captured on moving film) and was utilized on a US postal stamp that became the biggest selling USPS stamp of all time
The Joe Rosenthal photo became the basis for The Marine Corps War Memorial (also called the Iwo Jima Memorial) outside the walls of the Arlington National Cemetery. It is one of our country’s premier landmarks and is the world’s tallest statue, rising more than 110 feet, cast in bronze, and weighing more than 110 tons. Each Marine is over 32 tall and has two inscriptions at it’s base:
“In honor and memory of the men of the United States Marine Corps who have given their lives to their country since 10 November 1775″ and “Uncommon Valor Was a Common Virtue.” (A tribute by Admiral Chester Nimitz to the fighting men on Iwo Jima). Sadly and disturbingly, Ira Hayes lost his life to alcoholism on January 24, 1955 in Arizona.