Feature   Observances

Pima Indian Helped Raise American Flag on Iwo Jima During World War II

Nov. 3, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

The Defense Department and the nation are celebrating National Native American Heritage Month, which is every November.


It's a time to reflect on the contributions and sacrifices Native Americans have made to the United States, not just in the military, but in all walks of life.

On Feb. 23, 1945, Marine Corps Pfc. Ira Hayes, a 22-year-old Pima Indian from Arizona, achieved immortal fame as one of the six flag raisers in the iconic World War II photo and film taken atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima, a small island in the Western Pacific.

Marines raise a U.S. flag
Raising the Flag
Marines raise the second U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima, Feb. 23, 1945.
Photo By: Photo by Joe Rosenthal, Associated Press
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Hayes appears in the image at the far left, his hands reaching up toward the flagpole. Three of the other flag raisers were killed on Iwo. 

Hayes, a member of the 5th Marine Division, landed on the island on Feb. 19. It took four days for the Marines to reach the summit of Suribachi. The taking of the 554-foot hill was significant, in that it suppressed the fires from Japanese who were dug in and who had had prime vantage of much of the island.

Marine stands in doorway.
Ira Hayes
Ira Hayes at Marine Corps Parachute School, Camp Gillespie, Calif., sometime in 1942.
Photo By: Marine Corps
VIRIN: 421119-O-D0439-001

Hayes remained in the fight until the island was secured on March 26, 1945.

After the battle, Hayes participated in the Seventh War Loan drive to help defray the massive war debt by selling war bonds, and on April 20, he met President Harry S. Truman in the White House.

When World War II ended, Hayes, by then a corporal, served on occupation duty in Japan. On Dec. 1, 1945, he was honorably discharged.

In 1949, Hayes appeared briefly as himself in the film "Sands of Iwo Jima," starring John Wayne. 

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Hayes died in January 1955, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

He was later depicted in the 1961 film "The Outsider," starring Tony Curtis as Hayes. In the 2006 film "Flags of Our Fathers," directed by Clint Eastwood, Hayes was portrayed by Adam Beach.