Ira Hayes

The Akimel O'odham Warrior, World War II, and the Price of Heroism


By Tom Holm

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$38.00 CAD

The gripping, forgotten tale of Ira Hayes—a Native American icon and World War II legend who famously helped raise the flag at Iwo Jima but spent the latter half of his life haunted by being a war hero.

IRA HAYES tells the story of Ira Hamilton Hayes from the perspective of a Native American combat veteran of the Vietnam generation. Hayes, along with five other Marines, was captured in Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photograph of raising the stars and stripes on Mount Suribachi during the battle for the Japanese Island of Iwo Jima. The photograph was the inspiration and model for the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington. 

Between the time he helped raise that flag and his death—and beyond—he was the subject of more newspaper columns than any other Native person. He was hailed as a hero and maligned as a chronic alcoholic unable to take care of himself. IRA HAYES explores these fluctuating views of Ira Hayes. It reveals that they were primarily the product of American misconceptions about Native people, the nature of combat, and even alcoholism. Like most surviving veterans of combat, Ira did not think of himself as a heroic figure. There can be no doubt that Ira suffered from PTSD, which is a compound of survivor’s guilt, the shock of seeing death, especially of one’s friends, and the isolation brought on by feeling that no one could understand what he had been through. Ira’s life has been a subject of two motion pictures and a television drama. All these dramas sympathize with him, but ultimately fail to see his binge drinking as his way of temporarily escaping the melancholy, the rage he felt, his sense of betrayal, and the sheer boredom of peacetime. 

IRA HAYES breaks apart the complexities of Ira’s short life in honor of all Native veterans who have been to war in the service of the United States. This is equally their story.

  • “WWII hero Ira Hayes would have appreciated this book. Author Tom Holm uses Ira’s courage and humility as tools to dissect the historic and current fate of his Native American people. And Ira’s challenges focus light upon the tragedy of war and the horrors of PTSD. A meaningful and beautifully-researched read.”
    Judy Avila, bestselling author of Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII
  • “Tom Holm brilliantly and respectfully offers readers a rich and long overdue account of the life and tragic death of Ira Hayes that pierces through the stereotypes and misconceptions that plagued his during his life and long after his passing. It is a sensitive work that reminds us of the enormous emotional, psychological, and cultural difficulties Hayes had to cope with throughout his life. It is a splendid and timely contribution.” 
    Dr. David Wilkins, E. Claiborne Robins Distinguished Professor in Leadership Studies and citizen of the Lumbee Nation of North Carolina
  • “As a historian and a veteran, Tom Holm is uniquely positioned to write this important story, the first scholarly treatment of Hayes' life and times. Holm examines Hayes' struggles with fame and illness after World War II while offering insights into a post-war America hostile to Native identity and sovereignty despite the sacrifices made by Hayes and thousands of other Native Americans.”
    Paul C. Rosier, Ph.D., Professor of History at Villanova University and author of Serving Their Country: American Indian Politics and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century
  • “Tom Holm has masterfully turned the story of Ira Hayes on its head, reading his life through the lens of trauma - both inflicted from war and from the intergenerational consequences of colonialism. This new reading of Hayes' life challenges how the media and Hollywood have portrayed Hayes and centers Native American perspectives on Hayes and Native military service more broadly."
    Noah Riseman, professor of History at Australian Catholic University and co-author of Indigenous Peoples and the Second World War
  • "An excellent piece of scholarship; the definitive work on this Native American veteran. Carefully nuanced and rich in context, Holm transcends and dispels the stereotypes of Ira Haye’s life to show the complexity of the Akimel O’odham experience, the impacts of World War II, the social use of alcohol in 1940s America, and his personal experiences from poverty, racism, and the unwanted and unending attention following the flag raising on Mount Suribachi. As Holm concludes, 'He should be remembered for who he was rather that for what the dominant society has been led to believe about him.'"
    William C. Meadows, Missouri State University
  • "Tom Holm deservedly looms large in the history of Indigenous peoples’ military service in the wars of the twentieth century. In his new book, IRA HAYES, Holm reintroduces us to the iconic individual in ‘The Photograph’ of the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi. Holm extricates Hayes from the trope of tragedy and the racist stereotype of the ‘drunken Indian’ into which his story was confined during his lifetime and in which it remained trapped since his death. Instead, a complex Ira Hayes comes to life in the long context of his Akimel O’odham culture and community, American colonialism and racism, his military service, and his likely suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This tour de force is, by turns, compelling, devastating, and intensely humanizing."
    R. Scott Sheffield, Professor of History at University of the Fraser Valley and co-author of Indigenous Peoples and the Second World War: The Politics, Experiences and Legacies of War in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand
  • "Tom Holm's compelling narrative fills a critical void in our cultural interpretations of World War II America. The author's dynamic analytical blend of the social, military, and media elements that shaped the life of Ira Hayes makes for exquisite storytelling. The expertly researched tale is a profound reminder of the personal costs of war and the price of unwanted celebrity. IRA HAYES presents readers powerful context to better understand and appreciate the Native American experience during the Second World War and beyond."
    Jared Frederick, author of Dispatches of D-Day and host of Reel History
  • “A strong contribution to the literature of World War II, Native American warriors, and the unseen wounds of war.”
    Kirkus Reviews
  • “With grace, sympathy, and tact, Holm tackles both sides of the stereotype stamped onto Hayes’ life… This is the well-written and compelling biography Ira Hayes deserves.”
    Booklist Starred Review

On Sale
Aug 1, 2023
Page Count
320 pages

Tom Holm

About the Author

Tom Holm is a professor emeritus of American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona. Professor Holm has published over fifty articles, books, pamphlets, government reports, book reviews and essays, editorials, and book chapters.  An enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation with Muskogee Creek ancestry, Holm has served on numerous Native American organization boards, panels, and working groups.  He is a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War and has taken part in several programs dealing with veterans' affairs.

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