Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ira Hayes

January 12, 1923 – January 24, 1955

The statue recreates the (staged) photograph that Joe Rosenthal of AP took of five Marines and a Navy man. It has become, it is widely said, the most iconic picture of the War.

The four we see are (left to right) are Hayes, Franklin Sousley, John Bradley and Harlon Block. Behind them are Michael Strank (behind Sousley) and Rene Gagnon (behind Bradley).

Three of them died at Iwo Jima: Strank and Block on March 1st, Sousley three weeks later.

Of the survivors, Gagnon, Hayes and Bradley had minor cameos in Allan Dwan's 1950 release, The Sands of Iwo Jima. Adam Beach plays Hayes in Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers of 2006.

Only Bradley successfully put his life together after the War. The others suffered what, today, would be "post-traumatic stress disorders" in one form or another.

After a night of drinking, Ira Hamilton Hayes was found dead in an irrigation ditch. He was just thirty-three years of age. It was ten weeks after he attended the dedication of the Felix de Weldon statue in Washington DC. In different circumstances, we might be celebrating another birthday of a distinguished near-nonagenarian.

The only name of those flag-raisers that remains widely recognised is that of Ira Hayes. That is largely because of a song by Peter LaFarge, and even more so to John Cash's re-recording (part of the Bitter Tears album) of 1963.

There is a distinct change in Cash's treatment of the song as he (and it) aged and mellowed, and gained in significance. He moves his treatment from straight narrative ballad (as in the YouTube clip below), very much in the restrained Anglo-Scots tradition, to something nearer to C&W angst, which was what his audience expected:

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