From a white man’s perspective, it’s another soldier tale about the horrors of war. Details on Ira Haye’s drinking binge and silent retreat are often attributed to PTSD. But was that what songwriter Peter La Farge meant? Cash was passionate but he was just a mere interpreter of the song. He’s fond of concepts and he gave his all on each project he’d done. To his credit, this single charted on #3 in 1964.
But ask the Native Americans and they’ll tell you the song goes deeper than that. We’ll get to that soon but take a moment to listen to the ballad first.
Ira Hayes fought for his Homeland (not for White Men)
Ira Hayes had a voice wanting to be heard concerning the plight of his people. Many white settlers took over the main water sources and that left the Pima Natives’ lands arid. Without water, the Pima community was unable to grow crops. So in the hopes of bringing that issue to light, Hayes volunteered to join the US Marines Corp.
After the war, Hayes was among the survivors to return home. It’s just a shame that despite his short-lived fame, nobody cared to listen. The war was won and most officials would not be bothered by the natives’ ancestral claims.
Whiskey as his Last Days Company
Hence, he turned to alcoholism as a way to drown feelings of misery and frustrations. All the honorary decorations and glamorous speeches bestowed him were nothing but crap as their rights in their own land were trampled upon. Even the film he’d been invited to appear to honor him and his comrades’ bravery was nothing but a marketing scam by men of greed. Hayes was given the role of an extra and was not even consulted about the details of the Iwo Jima war. If that’s not blatant disregard of the man’s honor, I don’t know what it is.
So drunk and lonely, Ira Hayes died- his heart and soul were just as dry as their Pima land.
Johnny Cash, The Ballad of Ira Hayes