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Ira Hayes High School graduation marks a grim anniversary

BAPCHULE, Ariz. - Deep in the heart of the Gila River Indian Reservation of
central Arizona, eight graduates of the Ira Hayes Memorial High School
strode smartly across the stage May 27 to receive their diplomas. The
traditional Pima graduation ceremony marked a key anniversary date of the
death of the noted Iwo Jima flag-raiser who lived just down the road from
the new high school.

The graduates, some of whom started five years ago with humble beginnings
in a small cafeteria, witnessed the spectacular growth of the charter high
school in that short period of time. But now, 125 students, most of whom
are Pima, attend classes in a modern multi-million dollar facility that
stands majestically amid weathered surroundings in the arid Sonoran Desert.

The students, according to school board president Randy Eubanks, for the
most part have a variety of special needs. Some have justice system
experience and meet all of the poverty indicator standards.

"They've had some tough breaks in life and for some, this is the last
chance for them," Eubanks added.

Tears streamed down the faces of proud parents as they watched their
teenagers grasp spectacular diplomas engraved with their names and the
image of the Iwo Jima flag-raising. Students praised Principal Richard
Stoner as a true "grandfather" for making room in the school for infant
care and other accommodations to ensure student success. He, in turn,
saluted them for turning their lives around, looking beyond high school,
and already registering for college next fall.

The charter high school offers American Indian students an opportunity to
stay on the reservation rather than be bused dozens of miles away to
bordertown pubic schools where American Indians are a small minority in
larger, more affluent outgrowths of the Phoenix metropolis.

Fifty years after Ira Hayes froze to death in a drunken coma just outside
his home about a mile away, school officials and graduates failed in
speeches to note the significance of the date and place. In their own back
yard, they've heard it all before, much too often and in way too vivid
detail.

Hayes was a reluctant hero who believed he didn't deserve a medal. He hated
the constant press attention and rejected the high-priced hotel rooms he
was shuffled through as he made his way around the country in hundreds of
appearances arranged to sell war bonds.

Sometimes, in a drunken rage, he cursed the day he placed his hands on the
flag pole in a scene that was forever photographically frozen in memory and
used as the nation's patriotic symbol.

Arrested 55 times near taverns from Chicago to Los Angeles, Hayes may have
winced at the thought of such an extravagant facility built to carry hope
to his people. Or on the other hand, he might now find peace in knowing
that something associated with his name is bringing such joy and
fulfillment to the lives of the Pima families.