A'AGA Something to be told or talked about

February 2, 2018


Billy Allen


The last weekend of February, we will honor the raising of the American flag or vanjel on Iwo Jima.  Control of Iwo Jima was crucial for bombing flights to Tokyo and had to be taken, but it was defended by 22,000 Japanese soldiers. On February 19, 1945, after the decision was made to take the island, Navy bombing began and within 30 minutes over 8,000 volleys were fired to cover for 1,400 Marines landing on the island. An Indian Country Today article in 2012 by Konnie LeMay reported, “When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, there were 5,000 Native Americans listed in military service.  By January 1942, the DOD reports, 99 percent of all eligible Native American men had registered for the draft.”  Among the landing group were six Navajo Code Talkers who decoded over 800 messages within a 48 hour period without a mistake. 


Back home along the akimel, it was the month of Auppa I’ivakidak or Cottonwood Leafing. Life flowed along but with uneasiness about it for many O’otham and Piipaash volunteered.  The O’otham and Piipaash have a long tradition of taking the war trail, joining the military was the latest extension.    


In 1940, President Roosevelt sent National Guard units to Panama to protect the canal and prepare for jungle warfare.  Arizona’s Guard, 158th Infantry Regiment had a large contingent of O’otham and Piipaash.  After Pearl Harbor, the regiment was renamed as the Bushmasters. While in Panama, tribal member Sam Thomas was sent to Officer Candidate School and earned the rank of First Lieutenant. He then commanded a company for 5 months in Europe without a promotion. A chance meeting with Gen. George Patton ended the “mistake.” Jay Morago Jr. rose to the rank of Sergeant, awarded 4 Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, his roots went back to the territorial days when the O’otham fought against the O:b.  When the Bureau of Indian Affairs relinquished the operation of the tribal farm to the tribe, Sam and Jay ran the farm and soon had the farm turning a profit. There were numerous tribal members who served with the Bushmasters. 


From the Bushmasters regiment several Natives were recruited for an elite Special Forces unit that conducted raids and gathered intelligence in the Pacific. In 1943, under the command of Lt. General Walter Krueger, over 700 soldiers went through an intense six-week training course.   The top 138 graduates became Alamo Scouts, among them were tribal members Joshua Sunn, Theodore Largo and David Milda.  Going in six or seven man reconnaissance and raider teams behind enemy lines, they never lost a man to the Japanese Army. 


When the flag was raised on February 23, 1945, it signaled Allied forces had taken Iwo Jima. The tide has turned against the enemy.  The official end of World War II was seven months away. Iwo Jima was not Ira Hayes’ first battle.  As a seasoned Marine paratrooper he saw action at Villa La Vella, New Caledonia, and Bougainville. Corporal Ira Hayes returned to Bapchule, his home village on the south bank of the akimel.  For the next ten years, Ira struggled with life. He was found near his home on January 24, 1955, a victim of exposure. Thousands attended his services at Cook Memorial Presbyterian Church and many had to stand outside. The service was led by Esau Joseph and Roe B. Lewis, tribal members and ordained ministers. Later Ira Hayes was taken to the Arizona State capital to lie in state. On February 2, he was laid to rest with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.  GRIC’s Iwo Jima Flag Raising Parade and Ceremony helps us honor the sacrifices and valor of our military whose actions have enabled our freedoms and rights.  


Information was taken from The Pima-Maricopa by Henry F. Dobyns. Michelle Tirado. “Remembering the Alamo Scouts: Many American Indians Fought in World War II.” Indian Country Today May 27, 2011 and Konnie LeMay.  “A Brief History of American Indian Military Service.” Indian Country Today May 28, 2012. There are many sources devoted to the Alamo but this site was accessed;