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Soldier remembered as a hero

MOUNT PLEASANT -- On a winding and dusty gravel road, hidden by fields of drying corn, sits at Oak Grove Cemetery.

Much to the surprise of many residents in this mostly rural county, the hallowed ground in the small out-of-the-way graveyard holds in its cool dark arms a great American hero.

More than 100 people set up folding chairs among faded gravestones Sunday to honor Army Pvt. John P. Yount with an hourlong Medal of Honor dedication ceremony about 130 years after his death.

Yount was awarded the Medal of Honor on Nov. 13, 1871, for "Gallantry in action with Indians."

Born in Henry County in 1850, Yount enlisted in the Army in 1870 and served in the Third U.S. Cavalry in the Arizona Territory.

While tracking Cochise Indians in the Whetstone Mountains, Yount's patrol was ambushed, according to literature at the event.

Outnumbered 15 to 1, Yount and his fellow soldiers fought bravely. Following a doomed charge, ordered by a Lt. Cushing, Yount stood over the body of a wounded civilian scout and attempted to defend him, but the man was hit again and killed.

Yount continued to stand over the body of his fallen comrade to keep Indians from mutilating the corpse.

But the surviving men eventually retreated to Fort Crittenden, and the following day came with reinforcements to retrieve their comrades' bodies.

Yount and four other soldiers were recommended for medals of honor on Oct. 16, 1871, by Capt. Alexander Moore. The medals were issued six months later.

The bravery and valor of Yount struck a chord with Maj. Randy Higgenbotham of the 224 Engineer Battalion, Iowa National Guard. Higgenbotham returned to Iowa recently after serving 18 months of active duty.
"I was in combat twice," Higgenbotham said. "I still get goose bumps when I hear about the sacrifices a man makes like he did here ... he wouldn't leave his post protecting a fellow man. No greater honor than that. No greater sacrifice."

While reflecting on Yount's bravery, Higgenbotham said he was struck by the fact that both himself and Yount volunteered for their service, and that except for the hat and boots, the uniform has stayed basically the same.

"Today it's a volunteer army. Back then was a volunteer army," Higgenbotham said. "That is what has carried this nation through victories time and again."

Higgenbotham noted Iowa ranks fifth in the nation for number of medals awarded to soldiers.

With the discovery of Yount's burial site, there are now 11 Medal of Honor recipients with ties to Henry County, according to Iowa Sen. Dennis Black, D-Newton, author of, "Profiles of Valor -- Iowa's Medal of Honor Recipients Vol. 1, Civil War."

"That says incredible things about Iowans, our sacrifices, our work ethic, our valor. Because that is how you get this medal, valor and gallantry," Higgenbotham said.

Yount had no children, but about 15 descendants of his brother, Thomas Jefferson Yount, who had eight children and fought in the Civil War, attended the ceremony.

"My family is very historically minded," said Cathy Helman of Salem, a great-great-niece. "We just think it's very important to honor our ancestors. To know your past is very important to go forward with the future."

Yount died of typhoid fever on Dec. 11, 1872, at Fort McPherson, Neb. After his death, his family brought his body home to Iowa and had him buried.

His final resting place was lost to history until recently when George Bacon, the director of the Fort McPherson National Cemetery in Nebraska, spotted a picture of Yount's gravestone on the Internet, according to Pat White of Mount Pleasant, a member of the Henry County Pioneer Cemetery Commission, which manages about 30 pioneer cemeteries in the county.

Excited by the find, Bacon contacted the Medal of Honor Historical Society which contacted the cemetery commission, and began the process of ordering a special government- issue stone marker to be placed on the grave.

The ceremony also included speeches by local politicians, Medal of Honor Historical Society members, members of the State Historical Society of Iowa, a dedication of the grave, the singing of "God Bless America," and rifle salute and taps by the Henry County VFW Honor Guard.


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Page Last Updated: 2008-03-10 20:33:28
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