Huge crowds attend the 72nd Anniversary Iwo Jima Flag Raising Parade
March 3, 2017
Thomas R. Throssell
Gila River Indian News
On February 23, 1945, just five days after the invasion of Iwo Jima, six United States Marines made their way to the top of Mount Suribachi and were photographed raising the American flag, capturing one of World War II’s most iconic images and making the six men war heroes. In recognition of those six soldiers and the service of all U.S. veterans, the 72nd Anniversary Iwo Jima Flag Raising was held in Sacaton, Ariz. on Feb. 25, bringing out over 2,000 spectators from across the United States and Canada.
Tony McDaniel, Ira H. Hayes American Legion Post 84 Adjutant, said that members of the post worked hard over the past seven months organizing the annual event, and were glad to see it finally come to fruition.
“We have veterans from approximately 16 different states,” said McDaniel. “They come down here for our weather and to honor the World War II veterans, especially Ira Hayes.”
“Seven months of putting this together, today, it is all worth it, this is what it is all about,” McDaniel said motioning towards the long line of parade floats.
Thousands of spectators lined the sides of Casa Blanca Road from Skill Center Road all the way down to the Matthew B. Juan – Ira H. Hayes Veterans Memorial Park where the grandstand was located.
The rumble of a chrome four-engine propeller driven B-17 Flying Fortress caught the attention of spectators as it performed four separate flyovers, signaling the beginning of the parade and flag-raising ceremony.
The spectacle was filled to the brim with 119 floats led by a Post 84 Color Guard and three parade Grand Marshalls: 102-year-old World War II Navajo veteran Sophie Yazzie, Ira Hayes’s brother and Korean War veteran Kenneth G. Hayes, and Rene Gagnon Jr., son of Iwo Jima flag–raiser Rene Gagnon.
Spectators cheered and applauded passing floats filled with veteran dignitaries from across North America and a variety of tribal nations, including Iwo Jima survivors, Oliver Babbitts, Navajo Code Talker Thomas H. Begay, the Puyallup Tribal Veterans Color Guard, Canadian veteran and member of the Montreal Lake Cree Nation Graham Murdock, and World War II Army veteran Rev. Monsignor Edward Meulemans.
Representing the Gila River Indian Community in the parade were Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis, Lt. Gov. Monica Antone, a large group of St. Peter Indian Mission School students carrying a U.S. flag, the Pee Posh Veterans Association, Pee Posh-O’otham Veterans Association, the Gila River Fire Department Honor Guard, Achem A’al Indigenous Pima Basket Dancers, the Gila River Basket Dancers, and much more.
As the parade wound down, the large crowd of spectators made their way to the veterans’ memorial park where keynote speaker Gov. Lewis welcomed the audience to the Community.
“Each of our families has its stories of a son who went off to war and a daughter for who the service meant more than self, a relative we never got the chance to know well, but who we regard with deep pride every single time we hear their name,” said Lewis. “In my family, that man is Corporal Richard Lewis.”
Lewis said that while he had never met his grandfather’s brother, he was an inspiration to him throughout his life.
“My granddad’s brother enlisted [during] World War II…[and] served as a member of the First Marine Division Reinforced,” said Lewis. “[He] was also a dear friend of Ira Hayes.”
“Richard Lewis fought until a mid-January day in 1943 when he was killed in action,” he said. “His death marked the first time a Pima Indian was killed in the Pacific Theatre in World War II.”
Lewis said that several months later in a letter to his own family, Ira Hayes said he had been moved by Lewis’s willingness to give his own life to protect the country. Just two years later, on Feb. 23, 1945, Hayes, along with Harold Schultz, Michael Strank, Franklin Sousley, Rene Gagnon, and Harlon Block, would raise the U.S. flag over the island of Iwo Jima, he said.
“Ira Hayes stands as a giant to generation upon generation of Gila River Indian Community members,” said Lewis. “We, the fortunate many, who have the chance to stand here today because of the service of men and women like Ira Hayes, who fought courageously, who risked everything so that we can be free.”
“To each of you veterans here today, to the members of the Ira Hayes family, and my family, and all the many Community families who send loved ones off to…war let me close by saying this,” said Lewis. “We stand in awe of what you have accomplished and your commitment, and each of us working in our own way to bring honor to your service and to continue on in your footsteps. Our community will never forget you and we will do everything in our power to support our veterans and to live up to your example.”
The ceremony continued with greetings brought on behalf of Arizona Governor Doug Ducey by Director of Arizona Veterans Services, Wanda Wright, who briefly spoke about the importance of celebrating the military legacy of Ira Hayes and the legacy of all U.S. veterans.
After the event’s dignitaries concluded their speeches, five wreaths were blessed and placed at each of the veterans memorial park’s monuments; the Iwo Jima, Matthew B. Juan, Purple Heart, Women veterans, and P.O.W./M.I.A. monuments.