January 24, 1955 Ira Hamilton Hayes, a Native American (Pima) who was one of six U.S. Marines to raise the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima, dies of exposure.
With that entry in my "Day in History" blog one of the most under-discussed problems in the United States is laid painfully bare. Recently when Democratic presidential hopeful, John Edwards, stated that about 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night he was assailed for not knowing his facts. His knowledge and their homelessness are both reality and nothing new.
We in the United States have failed in our responsibilities to help the veterans of both popular and unpopular wars. Those that seem almost condemned to serve in the military can expect little for their service. Veterans' benefits seem an easy mark for the fiscal conservatives since the quiet complicity of anti-war liberals inevitably follows. The liberals' penchant for peace (anti-war) is translated into non-support for those who have fought in the wars. The conservative end of the spectrum has no such moral rationalization—it is merely the thoughts of "they're poor, so screw them." The attitude that being poor is somehow one's own fault is pervasive. Rarely, do you find members of this elitist group doing the actual fighting.
The story of Ira Hamilton Hayes is more disconcerting than most. He was called back from the fighting to raise money by promoting war bond sales. In WWII, we didn't just borrow on the future from foreign countries. Bond sales allowed the citizenry to lend their country the money for the war efforts. He was lauded as hero and plied with drink. He suffered what we now call "Survivors' Guilt." He felt the true heroes were the dead companions he left behind. We today are treating the returning veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan without even the accolades of hero. Why do we believe there is an unending supply of this cannon fodder?
Below I have excerpted from one article on the Net about Ira Hayes. I hope we can look at the lessons here and do better for our veterans in the future.
In 1954, Ira Hayes attended the dedication ceremony in Washington, D. C. for the Iwo Jima Memorial. This monument was a bronze cast replica of the now famous photograph of the flag raising, created by Felix DeWeldon. Within 10 weeks of this celebration Ira Hamilton Hayes would be dead at age 33. After another night of drinking and still lamenting over his fallen "buddies", Ira fell drunk in an irrigation ditch and froze to death, alone and forgotten by a country that had called him a hero. The ditch where he died was the single source of water that was provided for his people by the same government he'd proudly served.
Ira Hayes—Pima Tribe—Born -January 12, 1923 Sacaton, Arizona—Died - January 24, 1955 Bapchule, Arizona—Buried in Arlington National Cemetery
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