SACATON — A parade marking the 68th anniversary of the Iwo Jima flag raising is scheduled for Saturday on the Gila River Indian Community, an event made more special because Ira Hayes, one of the community’s own, was immortalized in a famous photograph from Iwo Jima.
The parade honors all those who sacrificed life and limb in the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II as well as all U.S. veterans who served and still serve their nation. The parade kicks off around 8:45 a.m.
“We also honor a new generation of men and women who are defending our freedom — our military is the reason we have this gorgeous country,” said Josie Delsi, secretary for American Legion Auxiliary Unit 84 in Sacaton.
Delsi started working on the event as a volunteer in 2004.
The parade route starts on Skill Center Road, continues to Casa Blanca Road and ends on Sacaton Road at Veterans Memorial Park.
The parade is big. “Last year we had 105 entries,” Tony McDaniel, adjutant for Legion Post 84, said. “Some were marching — some were riding — it gets bigger every year.”
Last year more than 2,000 spectators showed up from all over the country. McDaniel anticipates the event to be just as big this year.
One of Delsi’s responsibilities is coordinating the aircraft that will be flying by. The crowd favorite is a WWII B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, which makes four passes above the crowd. Delsi said the B-17 is from the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force in Mesa. There also will be four Stearman biplanes from the Antique Aircraft Association, she said.
“Each time the B-17 comes lower and lower,” McDaniel said. “He sets off the car alarms on that last pass.”
McDaniel said it’s recommended that attendees bring lawn chairs although some seating will be reserved for veterans, elderly and the disabled.
After the parade there will be a massing of colors and a re-enactment of the Iwo Jima flag raising, followed by wreath layings at five monuments at the Memorial Park. There will also be a gourd dance at 1 p.m. and powwow at 6 p.m. at the rodeo/fairgrounds on Bluebird Road. Everyone attending the parade is invited to enjoy a free barbecue-style lunch served by Post 84. The day’s events wrap up around 4 p.m.
The date was Feb. 23, 1945. Marines raised the flag of the United States atop Mount Suribachi at 10:20 a.m. during the Battle of Iwo Jima, signaling they had captured the highest point.
Everyone has seen the iconic image of the six men hoisting the flag on the mountaintop. One of the Marines — the one on the far left — is a Sacaton native, Ira Hayes.
More than 110,000 Americans and 880 ships began their amphibious invasion on the small volcanic island in the Pacific in the last year of the war. In 1944 the Japanese had transformed the 8-square-mile island into one of the most deadly fortresses in military history. The high ground was known by soldiers as the “meat grinder.” More than 23,000 Japanese troops fought from a network of caves and more than 800 pillboxes.
On Feb. 19 at 2 a.m. battleship guns signaled the start of the battle. B-29 bombers struck the island before 30,000 Marines from the 3rd, 4th and 5th Divisions set foot on land. The Marines’ first objective was to capture Mount Suribachi, the highest peak on Iwo Jima, located on the southern end of the island.
The Marines encountered terrain consisting of rough, volcanic ash, which made it virtually impossible to climb through with their 100-pound backpacks. On Feb. 20, the 28th Marines secured the southern end of Iwo Jima and took the summit. American casualties included 6,821 dead and more than 19,000 wounded. The entire Japanese garrison was wiped out with the exception of 216 prisoners.
Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded to Marines and sailors, many posthumously, more than were awarded for any other single operation during the war.
Ira H. Hayes
Ira Hamilton Hayes was born on Jan. 12, 1923, in Sacaton. Hayes, a Pima Indian, grew up in Bapchule and was an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community.
Hayes left high school after his sophomore year to serve in the Civilian Conservation Corps. He joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1942 and trained as a Paramarine, joined Company B, 3rd Parachute Battalion and was later transferred to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines of the 5th Marine Division.
Hayes landed on Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945. The men were photographed by Joe Rosenthal of The Associated Press. Hayes was honorably discharged on Dec. 1, 1945.
Rosenthal’s photograph made Hayes and the other five men famous. Hayes became a national war hero overnight but the pressure was too much and he descended into alcoholism. He died of alcohol poisoning on Jan. 24, 1955, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full honors. Prior to his death, Hayes portrayed himself in the 1949 film “Sands of Iwo Jima,” starring John Wayne. Hayes’ story also was portrayed in other films. The photo became the model for the Marine Corps War Memorial at Arlington.
The code talkers
Delsi also is interested in the Navajo code talkers, who served in all six Marine divisions and created an unbroken code from the ancient language of their people. The code talkers transmitted secret communications in every engagement of the Pacific Theater, saving countless lives.
Delsi said the idea to use Navajo for secure communications came from the son of a missionary to the Navajos. There were 29 original Navajo code talkers, but eventually over 400 more served as code talkers.
“We should honor the code talkers by working to preserve the rich, ancient languages they used to preserve our freedom,” Delsi said. “Members of 16 Indian tribes served as code talkers in WWI and WWII and (some) may have never been formally recognized for their service to our country.”