This Week’s Book Review - Ira Hayes

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Book Review

PTSD and The Iwo Jima Hero

Reviewed by Mark Lardas
January 21, 2024

“Ira Hayes: the Akimel O’odham warrior, World War II, and the Price of Heroism,” by Tom Holm, Twelve, Hachette Books. August 2023, 320 pages, $30.00 (Hardcover), $14.99 (e-book)

Ira Hayes was one of the six Marines photographed raising the flag at Iwo Jima. In popular memory he is the dumb Indian who became a Marine hero at Iwo Jima and died at 36, a drunk.

“Ira Hayes: the Akimel O’odham warrior, World War II, and the Price of Heroism,” by Tom Holm, shows there was more to Hayes. It reveals him as an intelligent, sensitive man, scarred by Post Traumatic Shock Disorder, who was never allowed to heal.

Holm examines Hayes and his tribe, the Akimel O’odham. With long military traditions, it was longtime United States ally against Spain, Mexico, and other Indian tribes. Their reward? To be robbed of their water rights, and wealth. They became impoverished in the late 19th century.

Hayes, coming from a warrior tradition, fit naturally in the Marines, becoming an outstanding Marine. Holm shows Hays as smart, outgoing, and sensitive in high school. In boot camp he was disciplined and sober, the one who did not drink on leave. Hays became parachute and Raider qualified. In combat on Bougainville, he proved a brave and competent combatant.

His misfortune was being photographed raising the US flag at Iwo Jima. That led to unwanted participation in the Seventh War Bond tour.

By Iwo Jima’s end Hayes was suffering from PTSD, then called combat fatigue. He watched close buddies die, comrades at Bougainville and Iwo Jima. He felt the dead were heroes, not him. Tribal tradition taught modesty as an important warrior value. It discouraged contact with the dead ever-present at Iwo. Instead of needed rest Hayes was forced into public view. His actions spotlighted and celebratory drinks pushed onto him. Under this stress all three surviving Marines overindulged. Hayes, an Indian, was singled out for drinking. Pulled from the tour he was sent back to his unit without being allowed home leave.

There were other stresses. A dead buddy was one of the other flag raisers but went uncredited. Hayes was ordered to stay silent. He left the Marines to be free to tell the truth. He returned to an impoverished existence. After defending his county, he could not voting in Arizona. With untreated PTSD, made to feel worthless, and singled out and punished for his drinking because he was a drunken Indian, he spiraled down.

Holm’s book makes grim reading. It remains worth reading. Although a tragedy, Ira Hayes’s life remains worth honoring.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City, TX. His website is This review appeared in a different form in Epoch Times.