Monday, June 25, 2007

Ira Hayes

I was just listening to a Johnny Cash CD (Johnny Cash 16 Biggest Hits) that has a cut of The Ballad of Ira Hayes(mp3).

I don't think about Ira Hayes very often. I was only 5 when he died, but I remember it. I was an early reader and was a newspaper reader even at 5 (mostly the cartoons, but I could usually parse headlines too). Also, my dad wasn't able to get out of the house unless he took me with him so I spent a lot of time with my dad in various coffee shops and beer joints where his death was a topic of conversation among vets (in 1955 beer joints and coffee shops had a lot of vets sitting around). Mostly they made jokes about it.

My memory of the story is that he fell face down in some shallow water of a street gutter, drunk. But looking it up now it seems it was more like a ditch.
In 1954, Ira Hayes attended the dedication ceremony in Washington, D. C. for the Iwo Jima Memorial. This monument was a bronze cast replica of the now famous photograph of the flag raising, created by Felix DeWeldon. Within 10 weeks of this celebration Ira Hamilton Hayes would be dead at age 33. After another night of drinking and still lamenting over his fallen "buddies", Ira fell drunk in an irrigation ditch and froze to death, alone and forgotten by a country that had called him a hero. The ditch where he died was the single source of water that was provided for his people by the same government he'd proudly served.

Those of you who might not know who Ira Hayes was should be ashamed. He was an American Indian from an Arizona reservation who joined the Marine Corp during WWII and was one of the Marines who raised the flag over Iwo Jima. He was one of 5 survivors of his 45 man platoon on Iwo Jima but he was one of the guys in that photograph.

He was a good Marine but didn't really distinguish himself in battle other than with his ability to keep his head down. He didn't receive any individual medals for heroism. But FDR made him and the other survivors from that photograph into war heroes and used them to do a national tour to sell war bonds.

Probably as much a result of that bond sales tour as from actual combat, Ira Hayes developed a strong case of PSTD. He was an alcoholic by the time the war was over and things just got worse from him in the years after the war.

Back then PTSD was called shell shock and the typical treatment was to tell the guy to snap out of it. That treatment didn't work well with Ira Hayes.

Vets with PTSD are treated better these days than they were back then. But whenever you read about some politician talking about how much he supports the troops you really should remember Ira Hayes.

The Ballad of Ira Hayes

Call him drunken Ira Hayes
He won't answer anymore
Not the whiskey drinkin' Indian
Nor the Marine that went to war

Gather round me people there's a story I would tell
About a brave young Indian you should remember well
From the land of the Pima Indian
A proud and noble band
Who farmed the Phoenix valley in Arizona land

Down the ditches for a thousand years
The water grew Ira's peoples' crops
'Till the white man stole the water rights
And the sparklin' water stopped

Now Ira's folks were hungry
And their land grew crops of weeds
When war came, Ira volunteered
And forgot the white man's greed

Call him drunken Ira Hayes
He won't answer anymore
Not the whiskey drinkin' Indian
Nor the Marine that went to war

There they battled up Iwo Jima's hill,
Two hundred and fifty men
But only twenty-seven lived to walk back down again

And when the fight was over
And when Old Glory raised
Among the men who held it high
Was the Indian, Ira Hayes

Call him drunken Ira Hayes
He won't answer anymore
Not the whiskey drinkin' Indian
Nor the Marine that went to war

Ira returned a hero
Celebrated through the land
He was wined and speeched and honored; Everybody shook his hand

But he was just a Pima Indian
No water, no crops, no chance
At home nobody cared what Ira'd done
And when did the Indians dance

Call him drunken Ira Hayes
He won't answer anymore
Not the whiskey drinkin' Indian
Nor the Marine that went to war

Then Ira started drinkin' hard;
Jail was often his home
They'd let him raise the flag and lower it
like you'd throw a dog a bone!

He died drunk one mornin'
Alone in the land he fought to save
Two inches of water in a lonely ditch
Was a grave for Ira Hayes

Call him drunken Ira Hayes
He won't answer anymore
Not the whiskey drinkin' Indian
Nor the Marine that went to war

Yeah, call him drunken Ira Hayes
But his land is just as dry
And his ghost is lyin' thirsty
In the ditch where Ira died

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