Ira Hayes: Hero by Happenstance?

“I am not a hero, but the brave men who died deserved this honor.” – Ira Hayes

Public Domain, at https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1259015

Public Domain, at https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1259015

Ira Hamilton Hayes was born a Pima Indian in Sacaton, Ariz. on Jan. 12, 1923. Before enrolling in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, Hayes lived a rather normal life. He is probably most known for a simple picture at the end of the war, which stands to this day as one of the most iconic photographs of U.S. determination in our history. Being one of the six Marines to raise the American flag at Iwo Jima made Hayes one of the most distinguished Native Americans of World War II.

The eldest of six children, Ira’s parents were Nancy and Joseph Hayes. He was raised Presbyterian and was marked by his quietness. Despite most Pima Indians in his area having a difficult time with English, Ira had a firm grasp on the language, and it was probably because of this that he did well in school.

Enlisting in the Marines in 1942, at the age of 19, Hayes was assigned for parachute training that August. By the end of November, he was a qualified parachutist and left for his first tour of duty in March 1943.

Look anywhere, and you will find this same information on Ira Hayes. What you will not find, however, is much personal information. Hayes’ personal life was just that – personal. Even as one of the most famous Marines in history, there is very little information to be found

Public Domain, at https://www.archives.gov/historical-docs/todays-doc/?dod-date=223

Public Domain, at https://www.archives.gov/historical-docs/todays-doc/?dod-date=223

Perhaps Ira was more of a hero by happenstance in his life – being in the right place at the right time to plant that flag on Iwo Jima.

There was no strong indication of a future in the military, based on the childhood years of Ira Hayes. It is rumored that he told a grade school classmate he wanted to be a Marine. Other than this, his early years seem that of a young Native not dissimilar to those we see today.

For instance, when you read about Ira, you read that as a child he would go for days without speaking, unless you talked to him. Comparatively, in my youth, I was taught to speak only when spoken to, to be respectful of those who are talking, and if there was a time I offered my word, to be in a humble way. You also read that he applied himself in school, one of the few ways he knew how – through the English language. Later, he’d apply himself to serve his country, much like his ancestors before him.

So, in many ways, Ira Hayes was just like many of us – quiet, humble, and driven to do the best he could at what he did. In his case, this included critical service such as helping to raise the flag at Iwo Jima and serving among the many Navajo code talkers and other Native American veterans.

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