Dec. 17, 2007

Virginia Guard twins raise fallen Marine’s contributions to military

Command Sgt. Maj. Sultan Muhammad poses with twins Eli Lovell, left, and Seth Lovell in recognition of their second place entry in the American Indian Heritage Month contest at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq. The Lovells, of B Company 3rd Battalion 116th Infantry, were recognized Dec. 1 for their 10-minute montage of Ira Hamilton Hayes, the only Native American amongst the Marines photographed in 1945 raising the American flag on Iwo Jima. Muhammad, the top enlisted soldier of the 507th Corps Support Group (Airborne), was one of the judges.  (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michael Moore)

By 2nd Lt. David E. Leiva
B Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq – Two Virginia Army National Guard soldiers were recognized here this month for their video portrayal of Ira Hamilton Hayes, one of the Marines immortalized in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of the American flag-raising at Iwo Jima.

Twins Eli and Seth Lovell, of B Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry, earned second place Dec. 1 in the annual American Indian Heritage Month contest, beating out six other entries with a 10-minute long montage of Hayes, the only Native American member of the six-man group captured in Joe Rosenthal’s 1945 award-winning snapshot.

The event, a program of the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, took place in November. It was sponsored by the 507th Corps Support Group (Airborne), a subordinate unit of the XVIII Airborne Corps. First place went to the 541st Transportation Company, a subordinate unit of the 101st Airborne Division.

“The observance was conducted to enhance cross-cultural awareness among soldiers and civilian employees,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael James, an equal opportunity representative who oversees these matters for the battalion under which B Company falls. “These observances recognize the achievements and contributions made by members of specific racial, ethnic or gender groups in our society.”

Inspired by the 2000 best-selling book-turned-movie, “Flags of Our Fathers,” the Lovells, of Staunton, Va., chose Hayes as an anecdote to introduce the contributions of Native Americans to the armed forces.

Using the late Johnny Cash’s rendition of “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” as a backdrop, the video went through the highly-decorated Marine’s life, whose battles with Japanese fighters were as well-documented as his fight years later with alcoholism.

“The song was so controversial, we knew it was kind of a bold presentation,” said Eli Lovell, a medic and recent graduate of Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, Va. “We didn’t how it was going to be received.”       

Immediately following their presentation, though, Command Sgt. Maj. Sultan Muhammad, the top enlisted soldier of the 507th, hand-delivered two of his minted coins to the Lovells, a symbol used to improve morale, foster unit esprit de corps and honor their work.

“I don’t know if you’re going to win, but that was excellent,” said Muhammad, one of four judges, which included the 507th commander, Col. James G. Currie Jr.

That excellence was what Sgt. 1st Class Tony Elliott had in mind when he scrolled down his roster to find someone capable of best representing B Company. He settled on the Lovells, both good story tellers and aspiring high school teachers. Especially since the program was to be judged on recognition, presentation, creativity and knowledge of observance.

The twins then spent days collecting and assembling photographs and facts about the flag raiser and the ethnic group’s significance to military history.

“The Ira Hayes story is an American story,” said Seth Lovell, a gunner on the Armored Security Vehicle and student at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. “There was so much information about his life; he was as familiar as Brad Pitt in the 1950s.”

Among interesting details the Lovells culled from the U.S. Census Bureau: Ten percent of American Indians have served in the armed forces – three times the rate of any other ethnic group in the United States.

Hayes, however, wasn’t the initial choice. But with missions providing convoy security throughout Iraq – and some procrastination with their assignment to represent the infantry unit – the twins went with Hayes.

The Lovells had just finished reading about Hayes’ exploits in James Bradley’s book, an account of the six Marines whose photo on Mount Suribachi came to symbolize World War II.

The other Marines shown in the photo included Rene Gagnon, Harlon Block, Franklin Sousley, Mike Strank and Navy corpsman John Bradley. Only Gagnon, Hayes and Bradley survived the war. Sousley, Block and Strank were killed in a later battle. Bradley, the last living man, died in 1994.

Hayes died in 1955 at the age of 32. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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