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Flag rasing at Iwo Jima photo by Joe Rosenthal Ira Hayes The Real Ira Hayes painting by Urshel Taylor

     The reluctant hero, Ira Hayes was born on the Gila River Indian Reservation, south of Chandler, Arizona, on 12 January 1923. He was shy, quiet and solemn while growing up. At the age of 19, he quit school and with the Blessings of his Tribe joined the Marines. It was on the tiny island of Iwo Jima that Ira Hayes along with five other Marines became reluctant heroes. On 19 February 1945, over 200 Marines landed on Iwo Jima. The next four days saw the bloodiest and fiercest battle ensued. When it was over, all but 27 Marines were dead. Forty Marines climbed Mount Surbachi on 23 February 1945 to plant the American Flag, claiming the island. Six of those Marines actually raised the Flag, Mike Strank, Harlon Block, Franklin Sousley, John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, and Ira Hayes. 

     The photo on the left above was taken to record this moment in history. The photographer, Joe Rosenthal received the Pulitzer Prize for this picture. The picture, above right, is titled "The Real Ira Hayes" was painted by Native American artist Urshel Taylor. Three of the six men died in combat, Mike Strank, Franklin Sousley, and Harlon Block. The remaining three, John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, and Ira Hayes were chosen by the War Department to become visible, tangible heroes. They were paraded though 32 cities, attended memorial unveilings, appeared at banquets, signed autographs, and gave interviews. While both John Bradley and Ira Hayes resented  these public displays, Rene Gagnon enjoyed the attention. 

     These three survivors of the Flag raising knew that their actions on that day in February 1945 on Iwo Jima had nothing to do with being heroes or heroism.  In the end John Bradley married his sweetheart, raised a family and never talked about the war. Rene Gagnon died. And, Ira Hayes returned to his home on the Gila Reservation. Ira kept locked within himself the war and it devoured him. People have said that he felt guilty for having survived while so many of his comrades died. On a cold and dreary morning in January 1955, Ira Hayes was found dead a short distance from his home. He was buried with full military honors in Arlington Cemetery.

Webmaster's note: Although this page is in honor of Ira Hayes. It is in no way meant to detract from nor ignore the other men who were at Iwo Jima. All who served and died there were and are true American Heroes.

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