Just another drunken gambler. He’d spent the night in jail fifty times before. No police came tonight, though. Tonight, the card game ended as it usually did, with an argument and a scuffle. But it didn’t last long and he and Henry even sat and continued drinking together long after his brothers left.
Just another drunken fighter. He’d been halfway around the world and seen more than his share of carnage. He didn’t drink to forget it, though. He drank to remember it. He’d promised to remember it long after everyone else had forgotten it.
Just another drunken drifter. He’d bought a little hut for $50 from money he’d made picking cotton but he rarely slept there. He’d sleep where the night left him; on a barstool, under a table, or with his brothers. He’d left the bar only when the bartender begged him to find somewhere else to sleep. He leaned against the door as it was bolted behind him and he breathed in the freezing dusty air. With nowhere else to go, he staggered down the road, mumbling to himself, until he came to the canal that led toward his home.
Just another drunken marine. Sometime on the early morning of January 24th, 1955, he lost his balance and tripped down the berm that paralleled the ditch. He fell face-first into two inches of stagnant water and it was there he went to sleep, his dog-tags covered in vomit and blood.
When his lifeless body was pulled from the sole irrigation ditch on the Pima reservation in Bapchule, Arizona, he wasn’t just another drunken Indian. He was Ira Hayes, reluctant hero and late-arriving victim of Iwo Jima. He ironically died in the waters that the nation he fought for had deprived of his once-proud people for so long.