When Ira Hayes was alive, his image was captured in one of the most famous battle photographs ever taken – the World War II picture of U.S. Marines raising the flag over Iwo Jima.
Now, more than a half-century later, it turns out that Hayes’ image also was captured in death – secretly cast in plaster while he lay in a Phoenix mortuary awaiting burial.
The heroic and tragic story of Hayes, a Pima Indian from Bapchule, was depicted in books, Hollywood films and popular music. The death mask, only recently discovered by Hayes’ family, adds one more chapter to the historic odyssey, a postscript with its own controversy and cultural questions.
This month, Kenneth Hayes, 78, received his brother’s final impression as a donation from the Gilbert Ortega Museum Gallery in Scottsdale, where the mask had been on display for years, unbeknownst to relatives. Family members laid the object to rest last week on the Gila River Reservation where Hayes was born and died. The surviving relatives say the burial allows Hayes’ spirit to go free into the next world.