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Ira Hayes

Ira Hayes (1923-1955) was a Native American hero of World War II's Battle of Iwo Jima.

Born on the Gila Indian Reservation in Arizona, a full-blooded member of the Pima nation, Hayes left school in 1942 to enlist in the Marines. Trained as a paratrooper, he was nicknamed Chief Falling Cloud. After bootcamp, Hayes was sent to the Pacific. He participated in the battle for the island of Iwo Jima, beginning on February 19, 1945, and was among the group of Marines that took Mount Suribachi four days later, on February 23. The raising of the American flag on the mountain by six GIs was immortalized by photographer Joe Rosenthal and became an icon of the war. Overnight, Hayes (who appears on the far right of the photograph) became a national hero, along with the two other survivors of the famous photograph, John Gagnon and Rene Bradley. Hayes's story drew particular attention because of his Native American background.

After a hero's welcome back in the United States, Hayes returned to his reservation, where he was gradually forgotten. The war had left its mark on him, however, and he turned to alcohol. After some fifty arrests for drunkenness, Hayes was found dead one morning after an extensive bout of drinking. He was thirty-two years old.

Hayes was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The tragic story of his life was immortalized in a song, "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," by Peter LaFarge and performed by Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan.

Well, they battled up Iwo Jima hill -- two hundred and fifty men,
But only twenty-seven lived -- to walk back down again;
When the fight was over -- and Old Glory raised
Among the men who held it high was the Indian -- Ira Hayes.