A hero comes homeBy Kimberly Greager
Native Sun News Today Correspondent
nativesunnews.today WHITE RIVER - Army Sgt. Philip James Iyotte was just 21 years old when he was captured by Chinese forces during the Korean War in 1951. A member of Company E, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, assigned under 8th Army, Iyotte was captured during a reconnaissance mission called Operation Thunderbolt and declared missing in action on February 9, 1951. After his capture, Iyotte was taken to a prisoner of war encampment, Camp 1 at Chansong. Two other Sioux POWs, Moses Garneaux and Norman White Buffalo Sr., had found a way to escape the encampment. When they told Iyotte of their plan, he knew he could not go with them because he had developed gangrene from a gunshot wound in his stomach, so he sang them a Lakota honor song and the two men left. They did eventually make it home to tell Iyotte’s father of his son’s bravery and courage. Once the war was over, other prisoners of war who returned home reported that Iyotte died around September 10, 1951. Iyotte’s remains, then labeled as “Unknown X-14265”, were disinterred from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii on May 8, 2017 and identified by Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency scientists using dental, anthropological and chest radiograph analysis. According to a press release issued by the Department of Defense, 7,718 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War, but with the use of modern technology identifications continue being made from remains that were previously recovered or returned by North Korea.
Just more than 30 years after Iyotte was declared missing in action, then-U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle presented the Iyotte family with a memorial plaque. Years later, in September of 2003, then-U.S. Senator Tim Johnson presented the Iyotte family with medals to honor Sgt. Philip Iyotte, including the Purple Heart with bronze oak leaf cluster, POW Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal and Combat Service Medal. Iyotte received a hero’s welcome home with an escort that was hundreds of cars long and led from Rapid City through Rosebud by the American Legion Chauncy Eagle Horn Post 125 Legionnaires and Legion Riders. Eugene Iron Shell Jr., Ft. Todd County Commander for the American Legion Chauncy Eagle Horn Post 125 of Rosebud, said, “It is an honor for me to be of service to his family during this time. He and my father were born four months apart in 1929. They started school at St. Francis in 1935, and they were members of the class of 1948. Most of the men left early to join the military. My father joined [the military] in November of ‘47 and Philip joined in January of ’48, during their senior year…My father was there last night when the plane came in.” District 2 Commander for the Hot Springs Post of the American Legion Riders, Don Ackerman, said, “We have about a 192 mile escort duty to bring a young warrior home to where he belongs. We are all very honored. It’s not often, if ever, that you have the opportunity to not only be called to an MIA issue, but also he was a POW and a Lakota, too. So, for us, it’s a tremendous honor to be a part of this.”
People lined the streets in each town the escort passed through, and the stretches of road in between, holding flags and signs welcoming Sgt. Iyotte home. Many were in groups but there were a few solitary soldiers, standing alone on the side of the road, dressed in uniform and saluting. A team of horse riders took over the escort near Mission and led the procession to the home of Sgt. Iyotte’s sister, Eva Iyotte, in White River. A teepee was set up for traditional prayers, and one-by-one the Veterans gathered there went inside to pay their respects to their fallen brother. They formed a line as they exited the teepee near a drum circle that was playing. Later in the evening, there was a service with a medal presentation and final roll call and Taps were performed. Sgt. Iyotte was buried in the family plot with full military honors on the morning of October 25, 2017. Dera Ioyette, Sgt. Iyotte’s niece, posted on social media, “After 66 years we are taking him back to the beautiful lands he was born to. It's such a blessing to know our Warrior is home. Thank you everyone, and keep praying, the power of prayer and love is incredibly beautiful and I'm happy uncle is home with all of us.”