Cheyenne River soldier’s remains coming home after 59 years

From: The Sioux Falls Argus Leader

A South Dakota soldier who fell in the cold and chaos of the North Korean countryside almost 60 years ago is coming home.

The remains of Sgt. 1st Class Arthur Francis Jewett, retrieved from a mass grave near the Chosin Reservoir in northeast North Korea in 2002, are being flown back to the state in a little more than two weeks.

Then, along the rolling, sweeping expanses of the Moreau River on the Cheyenne River reservation, the Lakota akicita – or warrior – will be buried Sept. 25 in a Catholic graveyard near his hometown of White Horse.

“For all these years,” said Jewett’s niece, Jennifer Schoelerman of White Horse, “this has been the most important thing for our family … to bring him home.”

When the Korean War ground to an end July 27, 1953, Arthur Jewett never came back to the family home 43 miles northeast of Eagle Butte.

He was not among the 33,629 Americans carried dead from the battlefields. Nor did his relatives, gathered anxiously around the radio, ever hear his name called as the lists of released prisoners of war were read.

His mother, Katherine Jewett, clung to false hope for a long time, 83-year-old Louis Jewett said.

“You know how it works,” he said. “She was everlasting looking up the road. She kind of formed this habit … she would go by the window and look out. Always looking out.”

The words “missing in action” fueled that false hope for years. But in fact, the thoughtful, quiet, straightforward Lakota from South Dakota probably had been dead since Thanksgiving 1950.

Eighth Army troops reached the North Korean border Oct. 8 of that year and, 11 days later, captured the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

Still the Americans pushed on, driving the North Koreans all the way to the Yalu River – the border between North Korea and China. The Chinese warned America to back off, but General Douglas MacArthur ordered his troops to press on, hoping to end the war before winter.

MacArthur underestimated the Chinese resolve – more than 300,000 Chinese troops crossed into North Korea as October turned to November.

On Nov. 23, 1950 – the date of his last letter home – 22-year-old Arthur Jewett wrote, “It looks like we’re going to have our turkey on the run.”

A member of B Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment of the 7th Infantry Division, Jewett and his unit were somewhere north of Chosin Reservoir when, on Nov. 27, 1950, they were struck by overwhelming forces.

Temperatures had plunged well below zero in the rugged mountains around the reservoir. The fighting, as the Americans retreated, lasted five or six days.

Jewett probably died in that time frame. His remains indicate he had been shot at least once – a bullet that entered above his upper lip and tore into his spine, his brother, Louis, said.

“I think he was probably lying on the ground, face up, and it was up close,” Louis Jewett said.

Jewett’s body apparently ended up nearby in a mass grave, a fact forgotten in the ensuing chaos.

The story goes that when the Army showed up to tell the family that Arthur was missing, his father, George, walked outside and wept.

At age 35, Jennifer Schoelerman was born long after her uncle had died. Still, she remembers climbing into Grandma Katherine’s bed at night and hearing stories about the family’s war hero.

A favorite tale involved Arthur’s nickname, “Bluie.”

In August 1928, Katherine Jewett was ready to give birth – an event that took place in a flat-sided tent a mile from the family’s home. The young mother didn’t know whether she was going to have a boy or a girl, so she took two blankets with her – one blue, one pink.

When Arthur appeared first, he was wrapped in the blue blanket. But when a twin appeared, Albert, the only blanket left was the pink one. So Arthur became “Bluie” and Albert was “Pinkie.”

Today, as his voice trembles ever so slightly, Louis Jewett remembers a younger brother who was a good baseball player, and decent enough on a basketball court.

The twins liked to compete against each other in hunting, whether it was pheasants, grouse, antelope or deer, Louis Jewett said. But Arthur had a common-sense side to him as well that maybe Albert didn’t possess.

“Pinkie was a little bit rough. He was the cowboy of the two,” Louis Jewett said. “Arthur could have been a cowboy, but it just didn’t occur to him to be bucked off a horse, or trampled, or gored by a bull.”

His brother probably would have married, maybe would have found work around home, or perhaps would have gone off to different parts of the country to find his future, Louis Jewett said.

Instead, Arthur Jewett became one of 38 South Dakotan service members who disappeared in the days of the Korean War, seemingly never to be seen or heard from again.

He might have stayed that way if not for a joint U.S.-North Korean team excavation in the first week of August 2002.

Based on debriefings during and after the war with soldiers coming out of North Korea, American officials knew roughly where Jewett and others fell, said Larry Greer, spokesman for the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office. Matched with information given by the North Koreans, excavation began that August on the east side of the Chosin Reservoir.

The remains of seven bodies were found, but North Korea allowed U.S. officials to repatriate only five of them. “They maintained that the other two were South Korean soldiers,” Greer said.

Schoelerman said evidence in the report given the family seems to indicate that Arthur Jewett and the others might have been buried elsewhere and their mass grave moved.

In any case, the remains were taken to the Central Identification Laboratory in Honolulu. Eventually, they were matched to DNA samples provided by Louis Jewett and a sister, Iyonne Garreau. With almost the entire skeleton recovered, the remains finally, and officially, were identified Jan. 30, Greer said.

The months since have been given to finalizing and putting together a report on his recovery, on notifying family and determining their wishes as far as returning his remains, Greer said.

All that is done now. Arthur Jewett finally can come home.

“It means we can be calm now, we can relax after all these years,” Louis Jewett said. “He’ll be home … and we’ll feel better because of that.”

Schoelerman said her uncle’s return is important as well for other families whose sons and fathers and brothers never came home from war. Her uncle is the second South Dakotan to be found and returned from the Korean War. The first, Cpl. Don Tippery of Chancellor, was returned seven years ago.

“Hopefully, this gives hope to other families,” Schoelerman said. “They’re still looking. I can tell you what that means to us; it is such a blessing.”

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