By Governor Dennis Daugaard
November 9, 2017
Sixty-nine years ago, a young man named Philip left his home in South Dakota to serve his country. Philip J. Iyotte was a Rosebud Sioux Tribe member who lived in White River and became a sergeant in the 8th Army and a member of Company E’s 21st Infantry Regiment and 24th Infantry Division.
Sgt. Iyotte’s battalion was one of the first sent into battle at the commencement of the Korean War. The sergeant was first wounded in 1950, but returned to the front lines less than three weeks later.
While fighting in Operation Thunderbolt on Feb. 9, 1951, Iyotte was taken by Chinese forces and was later moved to a camp at Changsong. Fellow prisoners of war have said that though Iyotte was wounded while in captivity and could not walk, he sang the Lakota honor song for his fellow soldiers. Iyotte is believed to have passed away after seven months in captivity. He was 21 years old.
Sgt. Iyotte’s story is fresh upon many of our minds, as he was finally brought home and laid to rest just a few weeks ago. Over these many years, Philip’s family never gave up on their efforts to find him. They kept hope and they endured in their work to bring him home. Upon his return, South Dakotans of all ages and walks of life honored this family’s devotion and the sergeant’s sacrifices by lining the streets for the procession and packing the White River gymnasium for the memorial ceremony.
This Veterans Day, I’m reminded of the immense sacrifice Sgt. Iyotte made at such a young age, and also of the price so many have paid to keep us free – some of whom were taken prisoner and never made it home. According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, more than 82,000 Americans who served in conflicts dating back to World War II are still unaccounted for. The agency estimates that three-quarters of the missing are within the Asia-Pacific and half were lost at sea.
Thousands of families throughout the nation are still without answers. For them, questions still exist – how loved ones lost their lives or where they are buried. I hope you will keep those families in your prayers this Veterans Day, and remember the POW/MIAs who never made it home. I hope you will also take time to thank the veterans in your life for keeping us free.
I am told Sgt. Iyotte’s Lakota name was “Akicita Isnala Najin,” which translates to “Soldier Who Stands Alone.” But since the day he was finally brought home and laid to rest, the name is no longer fitting. Philip no longer stands alone, and no veteran should.