Ira Hayes


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Narrator: Seventy thousand marines were sent to capture the Island of Iwo Jima. More than 23,000 died trying. Six became a symbol of courage for our nation at war. It took just one click of a camera. Of the six flag raisers forever frozen atop Mt. Suribachi in this famous photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press, one was a Pima Indian from Arizona. His name was Ira Hamilton Hayes.

Sarah Bernell: You know, most of these pictures are of the family. Here's another one with Ira right here. These are the originals that I made copies from. These are the originals. That's Joe Rosenthal and Ira.

Narrator: Sarah Bernell is Ira's niece. She's become the family historian and an expert on her famous uncle.

Sarah Bernell: He was born in Phoenix at the -- it used to be the Indian Hospital in Phoenix.

Narrator: Sarah lives with Ira's younger brother Kenny in Sacaton on the Gila River Reservation not far from where Ira was raised. Photographs and memories cover the walls of their modest home. Kenny proudly displays the medal Ira earned. But he finds it difficult to talk about his brother.

Kenny Bernell: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Narrator: Ira died at the age of 32, a tragic ending to the spectacular story of an American Indian who chose to fight for the stars and stripes, never wanting to be a star himself. But this photograph made Ira Hayes an instant celebrity. He and the other two surviving flag raisers were sent on tour to raise money for the war.

SINGING: From the halls of Montezuma...

Narrator: They appeared in the sands of Iwo Jima. In that movie, they re-enacted the scene that made them famous.

Kenny Bernell: See, there it goes.

Narrator: Kenny says his brother grew tired of all the attention.

Kenny Bernell: He's not one of them guys that like to brag and stuff like that. He's not that kind of guy.

Narrator: Sarah believes fame and the war took a toll on her Uncle.

Sarah Bernell: The only way he probably could combat it was through drinking.

Narrator: Alcohol became Ira's best friend and his worst enemy. It landed him in jail on occasion and claimed his life much too early. Just months before he died in 1955, Ira was in Washington, D.C., for the dedication of the Iwo Jima Memorial.

Sarah Burnell: I really feel a lot of pride, especially when you see that big statue in Washington, D.C., and I go over there, and say, "that's Ira." I've learned, you know, in traveling that more people off the reservation respect him more than our own people. I went overseas to -- you know, to Iwo Jima, and I met a lot of his old buddies, you know, his buddies that were on Iwo Jima. Some were very close to him, but some of them just read about him, and they were all amazed. You know, they wanted to meet Kenny. Even if it was just his brother, they wanted to meet him. People have come through our reservation. They've never seen anything on Ira. I guess he was sort of, like, forgotten here for a while.

Narrator: But Sarah is trying to change that. Evidence of her hard work and Ira Hayes is beginning to show.

Sarah Bernell: To me, it's that he was a warrior. He was an honorable person, and he did something that was very honorable, going to war, and he was recognized for what he done. That's one of the things that I'm proud of, to be part of this -- of the... I like to say that Ira Hayes was one of ours, one of our people. Ii want him to be remembered just by him raising the flag. I want him to be remembered. I figure if we don't, he will be lost in history to our own people.