Flag raiser#039;s life had tragic end

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 28, 2006

Clint Eastwood's upcoming World War II drama Flags of Our Fathers is scheduled to open soon. The film is the story of the six men who stood on Iowa Jima and raised the American flag, poignantly captured by the camera of Joe Rosenthal.

True and good war films are hard to come by. The majority of war pictures made following the years of World War II dealt mainly with the action and feel of combat, representing our soldiers and the conflicts they faced as little more than two hours of rip-roaring entertainment. True war movies are the ones that honor the sacrifice of those men who did not return and recognize the heroic struggle of those who did. Saving Private Ryan, for instance. HBO's epic Band of Brothers mini-series is another example. The champion ideal is John Wayne, who - from the number of war pictures he appeared in - could be thought of to have single handedly won every conflict America was involved in during the 20th Century. The truth is more along the line of Capt. John Miller, as portrayed by Tom Hanks in Ryan, who was a schoolteacher before he enlisted and fought the Nazis because it was his duty as an American.

Flags of Our Fathers focuses on those five marines on Iowa Jima that February day in 1945. One of those men was Ira Hayes - a Native American from Arizona. After Rosenthal's pictured made it into just about every major newspaper in the United States, Hayes and the other marines became instant celebrities. President Roosevelt - recognizing the good the photo would do to the war bond effort - ordered the marines identified and brought home. A nationwide tour starring the three marines who survived Iowa Jima was launched and over $23 billion was raised.

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Our heroes are supposed to return home from war, become productive and contributing members of society, get married, raise children and live long. That is - of course - what John Wayne would have done.

Ira Hayes became an alcoholic. Plagued by survivor's guilt, he was arrested some 50 times for drunkenness. He was found dead at age 32 in an abandoned hut on the Gila River Indian Reservation where he lived. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Johnny Cash later immortalized Hayes in the &#8220Ballad of Ira Hayes.” Says Cash, &#8220He 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.”

In truth, the majority of our heroes end up as tragedies.

Kevin Pearcey is Group Managing Editor of Greenville Newspapers, LLC. He can be reached by phone at 383-9302, ext. 136 or by email at: editor@greenville.advocate.com.