Hayes was a Native American, a member of the Pima tribe in Arizona. He enlisted in the Marines and fought in the Pacific Theater. He became a national hero after Joe Rosenthal's iconic photograph was seen by millions around the world.
La Farge's song tells the story of the troubled life of Hayes, who couldn't handle the fame and became an alcoholic. He died 10 years after the war, in 1955, found in a ditch after a night of drinking.
The storyteller opens with:
He goes on to say that although white settlers ruined the land, Hayes answered the call to fight for his country in the war. And he ended up, at the age of 22, at Iwo Jima:
Hayes was celebrated across the United States for this heroics, but it took a toll on him as found more solace with the bottle than with the fame:
Hayes was 12 days past his 32nd birthday when he died. This has to be one of the saddest songs ever written about a war veteran. The powerful lyrics truly tug at the heart:
Through the years and other wars, you wonder if the situation has really changed that much for those who served their nation with honor and valor. We have all witnessed the effects of war on soldiers and civilians.
Author James Bradley, with Ron Powers, wrote about the fateful day in Iwo Jima in acclaimed "Flags of Our Fathers." Bradley's father, John, was one of the flag raisers.
Clint Eastwood's movie, based on the book, was released in 2006. I think it's one of the best films about war and the consequences on those who serve. Another movie, "The Outsider," featured Tony Curtis portraying Hayes.
"The Ballad of Ira Hayes" lyrics
There have been several covers of this song but I believe Johnny Cash's version is the best.