Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Commemorating Iwo Jima and Ira H. Hayes

(Originally posted by me on on February 22nd, 2011; republishing here since Rantlust is no longer active.  Original comments included below; any non-original text is in green.)

One of the most iconic images of World War II is the photograph of five Marines and one Sailor raising the U.S. flag on Mt. Suribachi, on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima, on February 23rd, 1945. One of the Marines was Private First Class Ira H. Hayes, a Pima Native American from Sacaton, AZ, a town about 30 miles southeast of Phoenix on the Gila River Reservation. The photo, taken by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal while the battle for the island still raged, reinvigorated waning public support for the war in the U.S. and brought considerable fame to Ira Hayes and the other two flag-raisers who survived the Battle of Iwo Jima. It also served as the basis for the Marine Corp War Memorial outside Arlington National Cemetery, where Ira Hayes, after being promoted to Corporal but leading a troubled post-war life, was buried.

(photo credit:

Ira Hayes was never comfortable with his fame and invitations to the White House, feeling guilt over surviving the war when so many of his comrades didn’t (only five of his platoon of 45 survived, and three of  the six men in the photo were killed only days after it was taken), and he died tragically at the young age of 32 in 1955. He nonetheless remains a hero to the nation and especially to the Pima community. His hometown of Sacaton and the
Ira H. Hayes American Legion Post 84 honor him and all veterans with an annual parade every February to celebrate the anniversary of the Iwo Jima flag-raising.

What do I have to do with any of this? My old acquaintance and riding buddy Orvan (you knew there had to be a motorcycling connection, didn’t you?), who I hadn’t seen in at least 6 years, invited me along on a ride to Sacaton this past weekend that he and his riding group, The Hemajkam Riders, which includes many military veterans among its members, have been doing for several years. I was expecting merely a pleasant ride along some reservation back roads. Little did I know that I would get much more.

We met at a hotel in Ahwatukee at 6 am Saturday for breakfast before starting the ride. Most riders had travelled here the day before; some from Tucson, others from as far away as Window Rock in northeastern Arizona. After a surprisingly decent $4 breakfast, we saddled up and headed to Sacaton, taking a combination of interstate and lightly-travelled back roads. Upon arriving at the Sacaton Middle School,


I was amazed at the number and variety of people, uniforms, vehicles, and flags present in the area.





It turned out that we were in the staging grounds for the parade. Not only that, but we were participants in the parade as well!

There were many different groups present, some from as far away as Canada, so we had to wait for the parade to actually begin moving past the first spectators, about half a mile away, before our position in the procession came near so we could insert ourselves into the stream of parade participants. The kick-off to the parade was signaled at 8:45 am by a flyover by a B-17 bomber and a fighter aircraft of similar vintage that I couldn’t identify (P-51?), which both made several passes. Beautiful aircraft.


There were several other veterans groups there on motorcycles, including the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club, who provided their own patriotic music.

I felt a bit out of place, not only for not being a veteran (a recruiter years ago rejected me for being on medication for asthma), but also for being the only sportbike rider present! (Can you sing “One of these things is not like the others”?) However, the Hemajkam Riders were very gracious and welcoming (just a few of them shown below).


We eventually inched our way past about a mile and a half of cheering, waving spectators

(Some of the first groups along the route; by the end of the route there were grandstands filled with people on both sides of the road, but the wind had kicked up so much dust I didn't want to use my camera since I couldn't shield it while riding.)

before ending at the Mathew B. Juan / Ira H. Hayes Park in Sacaton, site of memorials to Ira Hayes


and Lori Piestewa, the first Native American woman to die in combat while serving with the U.S. military.


There were supposed to be several speeches and a lunch at the park, but due to a dust storm that had been worsening throughout the parade, the outdoor ceremonies were limited to a few very brief speeches and the raising of the flag, accompanied by the singing of the national anthem by a local children’s choir. I believe it may have been sung in the Pima language - it took me a few seconds to recognize it and raise my hand to my heart! Of course, the vast majority of those present would have understood it instantly - we were on the reservation, after all.


The remaining ceremonies - lunch, lengthier speeches, and a raffle drawing by the Hemajkam Riders - were moved to the nearby Boys & Girls Club. Lunch was an enjoyable traditional fry bread with refried beans, beef, lettuce, and tomato. While some of the speeches were lengthy, there were definitely moving portions.

The event wrapped up a little after 1 pm. I bid my farewell to Orv, his wife Reyna, and several of the Hemajkam Riders I had met that day, then got back on my bike and followed a few of the other Hemajkam Riders back to the main road in what was now a blinding dust storm. Within minutes the storm turned to such pelting rain that I stopped to put on my rain suit before getting on the interstate. I arrived home surprisingly dry, or to be more specific, at least no wetter than when I put on the rainsuit (kudos Teknic 1-piece!), and the official American Legion Post 84 cap given to me by Orv just before I left was amazingly clean and dry too (kudos Cycle Guys FastPack!).


I am very grateful to Orvan and the other members of the Hemajkam Riders for letting me be a part of their activities that day, which prompted me to learn more about Ira Hamilton Hayes. In the more than 14 years I’ve lived in the Phoenix area, I had been to Sacaton before but had no idea of the important role in history of one of its residents, or of the annual parade to honor him. It was a privilege to find out this way.
(Additional photos on Flickr)
Comments (as of February 14th, 2012, when I saved a copy of the original post)
  1. Louis C
February 24th, 2011 |
This is a great piece Suman. This was an amazing piece of history (makes you wonder how many more untold are out there) and it is wonderful that they honor their heroes annually so they are not forgotten. I am a proud member of Legion Post 2 in Tempe. Thanks for sending this out.
  1. Suman
August 17th, 2011 |
Belated thanks for the comment, Louis, and also for your service!

No comments:

Post a Comment