A hero’s welcome: South Dakota soldier’s remains return home 71 years after leaving

Published: Sep. 27, 2022 at 9:55 AM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - More than 7,500 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War.

But now, one soldier killed during that war is finally home, 71 years after he left his home in McLaughlin, South Dakota to enlist in the Army.

This is a moment Fern Has Horns never thought she’d witness.

“This is one moment I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget,” said Has Hrons.

It’s the moment her uncle Melvin Little Bear returned home.

“I’m glad he’s home. So glad,” she said.

Has Horns was just three months old when her uncle Melvin left for the Army.

“He was only 17. So, my grandma had to sign papers. He had a horse named Trigger. So, he told his mother he wanted to join his service. So, he rode his horse to the train station,” she recalled, having heard stories of her uncle her entire life.

From there, he was sent to Korea. He was reported missing in action on February 13, 1951. Little Bear was captured and held as a Prisoner of War at a POW camp in North Korea. It’s believed he died in captivity in July 1951. His remains were not identified until July 2022.

“July 14 was a shocking day for me. I was home alone when the Army called and said our DNA matched and they said I’d have my uncle back,” Has Horns recalled.

Now, months later, dozens of people gathered to welcome Army Private First Class Melvin Little Bear home.

“We honor our warriors, especially those who have gone and served and did not come home and those who were killed in action. It’s a big honor for that to happen. Bringing him home 71 years later is a great deal for us because we’re finally bringing him home to rest in his own lands,” said John Pretty Bear, himself a veteran who gathered to welcome Little Bear home.

A hero’s welcome 71 years in the making.

“He’s our hero,” said Has Horns.

Little Bear will be buried Friday in McLaughlin, South Dakota.

In 1954, his remains were returned to the United Nations Command but could not be identified. He was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1956.

Since 2019, the military has been working to identify those remains. Little Bear was identified in July.