October 29, 2017
By Vi Waln
“I will never ever give up on finding my brother. I will bring him home someday.” Eva Iyotte, Swift Bear Community.
Eva’s statement appears online at the Korean War Memorial of South Dakota: In Memory of US Army Sergeant Phillip James Iyotte. Last week, the Sicangu Lakota people witnessed the Iyotte Tiospaye prayer being answered. The homecoming of the late Sergeant Phillip James Iyotte was an event which united the Lakota people.
Born on December 22, 1929, Phillip James Iyotte was a teenager when he volunteered for the US Army. He was a member of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 21 Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. According to the Korean War Memorial site, his “battalion was one of the first sent into battle. On September 2, 1950, Sergeant Iyotte was wounded in battle, but he recovered and returned to the front lines on September 21, 1950. . . [he was] taken as a prisoner of war on February 9, 1951. . .He died on September 10, 1951, while held captive by the North Koreans.”
Lakota culture includes stories about the Tokala or Sash Wearers. These were the Akicita who went into battle with no intent of return. They vowed to stake themselves to the ground and fight the enemy to death. Sergeant Phillip James Iyotte was a true Tokala. Only the Tokala is strong enough to return to the front lines of a war zone 19 days after being seriously wounded in battle.
Sergeant Phillip James Iyotte’s parents were the late Joseph Iyotte Jr. and Florence Menard of White River, South Dakota. His late siblings included Judy Iyotte Black Elk, LeRoy Iyotte and Lawrence Iyotte Sr. He is survived by his youngest sister Eva, as well as a large extended family of nieces and nephews. Eva prayed every day to fulfill her fathers’ wish – to find her brother and bring him home. What a powerful prayer!
Our communities are known for great hardship. Today, many Lakota people reside in counties designated as the poorest in the country. Yet, the homecoming of Sergeant Phillip Iyotte was a rich display of Lakota culture, love and support for an Akicita. He was a Tokala who willingly went to war to protect his Tiospaye, knowing full well he might not return.
The technology of today allowed the whole world to watch the Lakota bury their long-lost soldier. From the time Sergeant Phillip James Iyotte’s remains landed in the HeSapa, to the time he was buried next to his late father, our Akicita did an excellent job of honoring one of their own.
Lakota people in the Eagle Nest, Corn Creek, Wososo, Rosebud, Horse Creek and Swift Bear areas decorated the highway with American flags. Large groups of veterans, singers, students and tribal families welcomed Sergeant Phillip James Iyotte as the motorcade passed through our communities. His niece Dera provided impromptu narratives through Facebook live streams, which included a wealth of family and community history, as the procession traveled through Lakota territory.
When the motorcade arrived in the Swift Bear Community, a large crowd of relatives and veterans were waiting. Sergeant Phillip James Iyotte arrived at his Sister’s residence by horse drawn wagon. The Bad Hand singers rendered many Red Leaf songs outside of the painted tipi, where our fallen Akicita laid in state until dusk. The Red Leaf songs recounted a remarkable story of Akicita Isnala Najin, the young soldier who traveled far from home to serve as a courageous Tokala. It was a beautiful tribute to one of the bravest Akicita the Sicangu Lakota have ever known.
The outpouring of support by numerous veteran groups and community people was a display of heartfelt grief marked by Lakota honor and generosity. There are too many who were involved to list here individually. The Lakota Oyate appreciates all the veterans from different eras who came in support of Sergeant Phillip James Iyotte and his Tiospaye.
We acknowledge our Sicangu Lakota Akicita Eugene Iron Shell Sr., Homer Whirlwind Soldier Sr. and all veterans of the Korean War. The homecoming of Sergeant Phillip Iyotte helped many of us realize how fortunate we are to have our Leksi Iron Shell and Leksi Whirlwind Soldier in our lives all these years. They both served on active duty in Korea and returned home to care for their families.
We also want to recognize all the American Legion Posts and Lakota Warrior Societies who helped bring Sergeant Phillip James Iyotte home to his final resting place in Two Kettle. The Chauncey Eagle Horn Post 125 of Rosebud provided a tremendous service to their fallen comrade. We are grateful to all veterans and active duty soldiers who paid tribute to one of their own.
As I watched the internet live streams on the day Sergeant Phillip James Iyotte came home to Swift Bear, I saw my people come together as one to honor a fallen soldier. Please pray for continued unity in our everyday lives as we work to overcome our hardships and provide the basic necessities for our families.
Wopila Tanka. Mitakuye Oyasin.
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