How Could I Feel Like a Hero When Only Five Men in My Platoon of 45 Survived?

Ira Hayes? James Bradley? John Bradley? Rene Gagnon? Fictionalized?

Dear Quote Investigator: One of the men who appeared in the famous flag-raising photograph taken on Iwo Jima during WWII was invited to the White House when he returned to the United States. The following 2005 news article describes a heart-rending comment that was supposedly said by that soldier, Ira Hayes [LBH]:

When Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman, called Hayes a hero, the Marine said, “How could I feel like a hero when only five men in my platoon of 45 survived, when only 27 men in my company of 250 managed to escape death or injury?”

I find it hard to believe that a quotation like this would be reported in the 1940s. Perhaps a newspaper during the Vietnam War or the Korean War would publish a quote like this, but times were different during World War 2. When Hayes visited the White House the Allies were still at war with Japan and an invasion of Japan with horrible attrition was thought to be imminent.

A very similar quote did appear in the bestselling book “Flags of Our Fathers” of 2000 that was later made into a movie, but the book does not claim that the words were said at the White House.  Perhaps Ira Hayes said it many years after the war or maybe it is a summary of thoughts he expressed to friends. Could you determine if this quotation is accurate?

Quote Investigator:  This is a fascinating question that QI will be happy to explore for you. Remarkably, the Boston Daily Globe of May 14, 1945 contains an article in which Ira Hayes is quoted saying words nearly identical to the ones given above [BDG]. The event described in the article is not a visit to the White House. Instead, it is a rally in Boston at which three of the Iwo Jima flag-raisers appeared. (Thanks to top researcher Joel S. Berson for verifying this citation on microfilm.)

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