Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Little Chief – part 4

Little Chief - part 1
Little Chief - part 2
Little Chief - part 3

by Tom Gaylord

He and I served all the way through the Pacific, until I got hit on Iwo Jima and evacuated to a hospital ship. That was the end of the war for me, but my friend, who everybody called "Chief," went on to fight a few more days. Then President Truman requested that he be returned to the United States immediately.

You have probably seen him but don't know it. He is the last man in the famous photo and statue, "The flag-raising on Iwo Jima." His name is Ira Hayes. He's the man with outstretched arms who has just let go of the flagpole, raising the flag of the land he fought for—the same land that took his ancestral grounds and scattered his people to the four winds.

Ira died an alcoholic in 1954 at the age of 33, afflicted with that dreaded sickness that seems to plague the American Indian. I have the disease, myself, although I have never allowed it to manifest itself fully.

As I sit here in my comfortable home looking back over all the years, I think of Ira and of my grandmother who taught me so many things. My life will soon be over, but I have managed to touch the lives of others who will live on long past me. And I have finally discovered the secret to life on earth. It doesn't matter who you are or where you come from. What matters is how you behave and what you do with what you have. You are here long enough to have a small impact on mankind, then your turn is over and you are whisked away to the infinite.

My being part Indian did not affect my life one small iota, because I pretended that it wasn't true. I could get away with the lie because I didn’t look like an Indian. Even though I admired the American Indian, I was too afraid I’d be embarrassed if anyone knew that I had their blood in me. Well, nobody ever knew.

Ira could not do the same. He lived the life he was given and became one of our country's most well-known heroes, even though most people never knew his name. They looked down on him both before and after his brave act, but he never stopped being himself. That’s what makes a true hero. I wish now that I had possessed the bravery to be a real Indian.

Sandusky, Ohio, 1973


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