Johnny Cash sings “The Ballad of Ira Hayes.”
Johnny Cash sings “The Ballad of Ira Hayes.”
Left: Ira Hayes at nineteen. Right: Hayes points to his image in the famous Joe Rosenthal photograph.
ON THIS DATE in 1942, nineteen-year-old U.S. Marine Ira H. Hayes graduated from Parachute Training School and received his silver “jump wings.” A full-blooded Pima Indian from Arizona, Hayes was called “Chief Falling Cloud” by his Marine pals. On February 23, 1945, Hayes was photographed with five others planting the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi. The photograph by Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press is one of the most iconic of all war images. Hayes drank heavily after the war and died of exposure to cold and alcohol poisoning in 1955; he was just thirty-two. Johnny Cash in 1964 recorded a song titled “The Ballad of Ira Hayes.”
Above: Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya is led to her execution with a tablet on her chest that translates as “arsonist of buildings.”
“YOU CAN’T HANG all 190 million of us!” cried eighteen-year-old Soviet legend Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya on this date in 1941. Supposedly. While the pronouncement of the soon-to-be-executed World War II resistance fighter smacks of Soviet propaganda, Kosmodemyanskaya appears to have been a worthy heroine. She worked with a band of local guerrillas after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, setting fire to houses and stables used by Nazi officers in Petrishchevo. Betrayed by a Nazi collaborator, she was hanged on November 29, 1941. In February of 1942 she was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
ON THIS DATE in 1857, fifteen-year-old Thomas Flinn charged enemy guns and fought hand to hand despite being wounded with two artillerymen during the Indian Mutiny in Cawnpore. He became the youngest winner of the Victoria Cross, the most prestigious award given to British soldiers. Three years later Andrew Fitzgibbon, also fifteen, received the Victoria Cross for giving medical attention to two wounded soldiers during the Third China War.
THREE YEARS AGO today, a seventeen-year-old cross-country runner refused to quit. Holland Reynolds of San Francisco University High School approached the last 800 yards of the 2010 CIF state championship race in second place, and then her body betrayed her. Afflicted by the cold more than the 3.1-mile distance, Reynolds began staggering in what she called “a zombie walk” before collapsing short of the finish line.
That should have been the end of her run, but Reynolds was determined to finish for her coach, Jim Tracy, who had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. She got to her hands and knees and, in great pain, crawled the last six feet of the race.
YouTube videos of Reynolds’ remarkable run gave inspiration to many, including a professional football team. New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin showed the clip to his troops during the first gatherings of the 2011-12 season. “It set a tone,” punter Steve Weatherford told the New York Daily News. After watching Reynolds, the team adopted a one-word slogan for their upcoming season — “Finish.” The Giants completed that year with a 21-17 victory over the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
ON THIS DATE in 1956, sixteen-year-old Ellery Schempp sent a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) requesting “action and/or aid in testing the constitutionality of Pennsylvania law which arbitrarily … compels the Bible to be read in our public school system.” The high school junior at Abington Senior High in the Philadelphia suburbs kick-started Abington v. Schempp, a case that resulted in a landmark 1963 Supreme Court decision banning mandatory Bible readings in public schools.
Before Schempp’s protest, students at Abington High took turns reading ten Bible verses each morning, then recited together the Lord’s Prayer and Pledge of Allegiance. On November 26, 1956, Schempp silently read a copy of the Quran during the morning devotional. “It could just as easily have been some Hindu or Buddhist scripture,” he told Church & State five decades later. “It was merely symbolic to challenge the view that Bible verses were unique; there were other claimants to ‘absolute truth’ and ‘sacred scripture.’”
Schempp refused to stop reading when a teacher instructed him to and was sent to the principal’s office. Later that day he sent his letter to the ALCU.
FIFTY YEARS AGO today, in 1963, seventeen-year-old photographer John Shearer covered the funeral of President John F. Kennedy and snapped an unforgettable image of John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father’s casket while Jacqueline Kennedy, holding little Caroline Kennedy’s hand, looked on. (Stan Stearns of United Press International snapped the same image from a different angle). Shooting for Look magazine, Shearer accompanied one of the magazine’s veteran photographers, Arthur Rothstein, to the Kennedy funeral. “Take as many pictures as you can of people grieving,” Rothstein said. Shearer moved around, “shooting over the shoulders or under the legs of other photographers,” until he found a spot with a clear view of the Kennedy family near the coffin at the Arlington National Cemetery. Jacqueline Kennedy whispered something into John Jr.’s ear, and the little boy, who’d just turned three, crisply saluted the coffin. “I had my picture,” Shearer said, adding that “luck – and the fearlessness of youth – were on my side that day.”