John Raymond Rice – Sergeant, United States Army


John Raymond Rice
Winnebago, Nebraska
Born April 25, 1914
Sergeant First Class, U.S. Army
Service Number 17033372
Killed in Action
Died September 6, 1950 in Korea

Sergeant First Class Rice was a veteran of World War II. In Korea, he was a squad leader in Company A, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division.

He was Killed in Action while fighting the enemy near Tabu-dong, South Korea on September 6, 1950.

For his leadership and valor, Sergeant First Class Rice was awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Combat Infantryman's Badge with Star, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation, the Republic of Korea War Service Medal, the Pacific Theater Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.


He was killed-in-action during the Korean War and was denied burial in a local cemetery in Sioux City, Iowa, because he was an American Indian.

President Harry Truman personally intervened and ordered that he be buried in Section 34 of Arlington National Cemetery.

John R. Rice
Thurston, Nebraska – Born 1914
Sergeant First Class, US Army
Killed in Action September 6, 1950 in Korea
Sergeant First Class Rice was a member of the 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. He was Killed in Action while fighting the enemy in South Korea on September 6, 1950.

Provided By: Betty J. Foster

Sioux City Journal, August 29, 2001:
Celebrating the Life of Sgt. Rice
Memorial honors Sgt. Rice, 50 years after his burial was refused.

“Several hundred Siouxlanders gathered Tuesday to honor Sergeant John Rice, 50 years after a Sioux City cemetery refused to allow him to be buried because he was Native American.  His Native American name translates to “Walking in the Blue Sky.”

The controversy over the private ceremony's discrimination drew national attention to Sioux City and President Harry Truman stepped in, arranging for Rice to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery where he received full military honors.

The incident was a watershed movement in the Native American Civil Rights movement, said Dan Truckey, curator of the Sioux City PublicMuseum who helped organize the memorial.

The memorial began with a parade, presentation of colors and arms by Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion members. Winnebago Tribal members led by Matthew Cleveland, Sr., opened the ceremony with a Native American flag song.
Rice, a 10 year Army veteran who earned a Purple Heart and other honors during World War II, fought in the Korean War where he died in 1950.

His body was returned to Siouxland from overseas in 1951 and his wife, Evelyn purchased a plot for his remains at Memorial Part, a private cemetery.  She chose that site because of the beautiful grounds and its convenient location that would allow family members to visit easily.  Rice's widow, a Caucasian was sold the plot without question.  But when the service took place, the cemetery caretakers realized Rice was part Winnebago and told the family he could not be buried in the plot and offered Evelyn Rice her money back, citing a bylaw of the cemetery which did not allow anyone other than Caucasians to be buried there.   Had his family been willing to sign a paper identifying Rice as a Caucasian, the burial would have gone ahead but they all refused.

Rice's body was taken to Winnebago lands. After Truman arranged his funeral, the body was returned over the bridge to the Milwaukee Road Depot in Sioux City, to be taken to Arlington.  Hundreds of Sioux Cityans lined the streets that day to honor Rice.

Fifty years later, several hundred Siouxlanders gathered at Veteran's Park in Sioux City to recognize Rice's sacrifice and that there was some good which came from events that followed because they helped to force into the open, the discrimination which Native Americans had always faced.

“We honor him today as he should have been honored 50 years ago,” Truckey said.
Mayor Marty Dougherty spoke at the ceremony, noting that the refusal to bury Rice was “not a proud moment in Sioux City's history.”  He added that city leaders at the time were right to express condemnation, which they did.

“There is nothing they could say then or that I can say now that will take away the memory of that day,” Dougherty said.  “His life tells us that the battle for freedom is not just fought across the ocean in some far away place.”

Indian rights activist Frank LaMere was unable to attend Tuesday because he was at Pine Ridge Reservation.  But he sent remarks and told the family he had put tobacco out at Pine Ridge and someone had also put out tobacco at Rice's grave in Arlington.   Tobacco is sacred to the Winnebago, and they believe burning it helps lift prayers to the Almighty.

 “We have come far at the expense of Sgt. John Rice and the Gold Star family he left behind,” LaMere said.  “Our respect for one another this day is their legacy and speaks to the possibilities.  The bridges we can build tomorrow will be strong if we do not forget the foundation was laid on a battlefield in Korea.”

Winnebago Tribal Council Chairman John Blackhawk also spoke to honor Rice, shaking hands at the end of his talk with each member of the family.

For many who spoke, the story focused on Rice's sacrifice and the cemetery's refusal to bury him but for Scott Raymond Goodwin, whose mother is Rice's oldest daughter, the story is about “Gentle John,” his grandfather.

“Sometimes an event takes place that shakes our moral fiber,” he said.  “This was such an event…but this is a love story…..Grandmother loves Grandpa just as much as the day she married him.  No wonder she did not remarry.  She had found true love.”

Many of the speakers quoted from Martin Luther King, including Dick Hayes of the Sioux City Human Rights Commission and Goodwin.

“We all have a dream, that our nation will rise up and live out the meaning of its creation, that all men are created equal,” Goodwin paraphrased. Tribal representatives placed a brightly colored blanket around the shoulders of Evelyn Rice, the widow, as she stood at the drumming circle with which the ceremony closed.  Afterwards, she sat as most of those who attended came by to shake her hand and those of other family members.

Mary Tebo Merrick of Walthill was one of those.  Her father, Frank Tebo, Sr., was a veteran who sat with Rice's body after it was first brought to Sioux City.  The Native American tradition calls for someone to remain with the body for the first four days after the death when a veteran dies on the battlefield.  Because other veterans did not realize the tradition existed, he was never relieved.  Sam Tebo, Sr. sat with Rice for four days and nights without sleep, Merrick said.

January 28, 2005

Wife in 1950s racial flap at cemetery dies

The widow of a Korean War combat casualty who was refused burial in a Sioux City, Iowa, cemetery in 1951 because he was not white, died Wednesday.

Evelyn H. Rice died of congestive heart failure or pneumonia at St. Luke's Hospital in Sioux City, family members said. She was 83.

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Meyer Brothers Colonial Chapel in Sioux City.

Rice, who was thrust into a national spotlight she neither sought nor enjoyed, focused on the future and her family after her Winnebago Indian husband was killed in the first weeks of the Korean War, her children said.

She never remarried and rarely spoke about the cemetery incident that resulted in a discrimination lawsuit rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in the mid-1950s.

“She wanted them to say it wasn't right,” said son Tim Rice of Omaha. “It was all about equal rights. What's right is right. What happened wasn't right.”

A Winnebago, Neb., native, she was the daughter of white farmers who lived on the Winnebago Indian Reservation. She and John R. Rice, a World War II combat veteran, married on Valentine's Day 1945.

She was 28 when her Army sergeant husband was killed defending the last corner of South Korea not overrun by North Korean troops in September 1950. The couple had three children.

At his funeral nearly a year after his death, officials at Memorial Park in Sioux City refused to lower the casket into the ground after they learned of his Indian heritage.

The private cemetery's bylaws then excluded non-Caucasians. The incident erupted into a national furor, and Evelyn Rice accepted President Truman's offer to bury her husband at Arlington National Cemetery.

The family lived in Winnebago with Evelyn Rice's parents until moving to Sioux City in 1956. Rice worked as a secretary and bookkeeper, mostly for Interstate Restaurant Supply, until retiring.

“Mom always put her family – and all the friends we brought home – first,” said Tim Rice. “A lot of people called her ‘Mom.'”

The Sioux City community commemorated the 50th anniversary of the episode with a ceremony of reconciliation.

Evelyn Rice lived in Sioux City until moving to an assisted care facility in South Sioux City, Nebraska, a few years ago.

In addition to her son, survivors include daughters Pamela Goodwin of Westminster, Colo., and Jean LaMere of South Sioux City; brother Wallace Wilcox of Scottsdale, Ariz.; sister Thelma Rice of Sioux City; 10 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

Evelyn Rice's ashes will be buried later this year next to her parents' graves in a Walthill, Nebraska, cemetery.

Slain hero, wife to be reunited at Arlington Cemetery
By Christian Richardson Journal staff writer
Courtesy of the Sioux City Journal
6 May 2006

Some people say things happen for a reason.

In the days following the death of Evelyn Rice, the widow of Sergeant John Rice, a Korean War soldier who was refused burial at a Sioux City cemetery, her daughter, Jean LaMere, began rummaging through her mother's possessions.

There were numerous boxes in LaMere's South Sioux City garage. She picked one that was out of the way and started sifting through it.

She found a letter from the government stating that as a soldier's widow who never remarried Evelyn Rice had the right to be buried alongside her husband in Arlington National Cemetery.

“It was like she might have been pulling me to that box,” LaMere said.

It caused the daughter to pause. She said she had known for years that her mother could be buried alongside her father. But her mother, who never wanted to put anyone out of their way, had made her own funeral arrangements and decided to be laid to rest in Walthill, Nebraska.

The family knew, though, that their mother would truly want to be buried next to her husband, she said.

“We're so pleased that this has fallen in place and she can be buried by our dad,” LaMere said.

At 11 a.m. Friday her ashes will be placed in Arlington National Cemetery.

La Mere, her sister, Pam Goodwin, and her brother, Tim Rice, along with their families will be present. Winnebago Tribe members as well as City Councilman Jim Rixner and Karen Mackey, Human Rights director, will also be at the gravesite.

“I'm pleased to be able to represent the city,” Rixner said.

Rixner, who has a history of working with the Winnebago Tribe, said the burial is another chance for American Indians and non-American Indians to continue mending ties decades after Sergeant John Rice was refused burial.

Few details have been released about the ceremony, LaMere said. She said Arlington has a set protocol for the burial.

Evelyn and John Rice married on Valentine's Day in 1945.

“He was the love of her life,” LaMere said. “From letters we've found she was the love of his life, too.”

John Rice died at age 36 when he was killed in action on September 6, 1950, near Tabu Dong, Korea.

In 1951 his body was returned to Siouxland. He was to be buried in a plot his wife had purchased at Memorial Park Cemetery. But caretakers realized he was a Winnebago Indian and told the family he could not be buried there, unless they signed a paper identifying Rice as white. The family refused.

A controversy grew and drew national attention and a storm of protests.

President Harry S. Truman stepped in and arranged for the soldier, who had earned a Purple Heart during World War II, to be buried September 5, 1951, at Arlington National Cemetery where he received full military honors.

Evelyn Rice, 83, of South Sioux City, died January 26, 2006, at a Sioux City hospital.

In describing her, Jim Snow, vice chairman of the Winnebago Tribal Council, said she was a dedicated wife who stood by her husband.

“She was a pretty strong lady when this incident first happened and she was a strong mother,” said Snow, who along with Winnebago council member Matt Pilcher will attend the burial.

For the family, LaMere said the trip will be bittersweet.

“We're looking forward to the trip, but we're dreading it,” she said. “It's going to be another good-bye and that's always hard.”

Rice buried in Arlington — A Rosa Parks for American Indians
By Bret Hayworth Journal staff writer
13 May 2006

The dual nature of Evelyn Rice's life was laid out for about 100 attendees Friday morning, as her ashes were placed in Arlington National Cemetery, perhaps the most hallowed cemetery in the United States.

There was the mother and grandmother portion of Rice's existence, recalled by a grandson eulogizing her. And there was the activist who wouldn't submit to the 1951 status quo, wouldn't accept that her American Indian husband, a World War II hero who would be featured on Siouxland billboards in the 21st century, couldn't be buried in Sioux City's Memorial Park Cemetery unless he was white.

Refusing to falsify a paper saying her husband, Sergeant John Rice, was a white man, she kicked off a storm that drew national attention, with President Harry S. Truman finally stepping in and arranging for him to be buried in Arlington with full military honors on September 5, 1951.

Evelyn Rice sued the cemetery for $180,000, claiming its discriminatory policies violated the constitutions of the United States and the state of Iowa and the United Nations charter. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. In November 1954, the court ruled against her 4-4 (Justice John Harlan had not been confirmed).

A half century later, the woman who never remarried was buried near her beloved husband.

“They are finally together again,” said Karen Mackey, the Sioux City Human Rights Commission director.

Mackey was one of several Siouxlanders at the event, including Winnebago tribe members, as well as relatives from the West Coast and staffers of federal lawmakers from Nebraska (Senators Chuck Hagel and Ben Nelson) and Iowa (Senators Charles Grassley and Tom Harkin and Representative Steve King).

“We felt that it was appropriate to honor this very brave woman,” Mackey said.

She said Evelyn Rice showed “the power of one person to affect change. She was just an ordinary person, she took a strong stand when she didn't have to. You know, she was just in her 20s and she just wanted to bury her husband and get on with her life, but that wasn't allowed. All she had to do was lie, was sign the paper saying he was a Caucasian, and she wouldn't do that … Back then (Memorial Park) had a ‘whites only' policy.”

Mackey said Rice's “act was in many ways the start of the American Indian civil rights era … This was our Rosa Parks.”

John Rice died at age 36, killed in action on September 6, 1950, near Tabu Dong, Korea. Evelyn Rice, 83, died January 26, 2006, at a Sioux City hospital.

Evelyn Rice had set arrangements to be buried in Walthill, Nebraska, but family members found a government letter specifying that as a soldier's widow who never remarried, she had the right to be buried alongside her husband. One of the four persons who spoke at Friday's ceremony, Winnebago Tribal vice chairman Jimmy Snow, referenced how John Rice “had called her across time and space to be near him.”

Both were born on the Indian reservation near Walthill, and Evelyn's dancing caught the eye of John Rice one day. “He was the love of her life, bar none. She never remarried,” said grandson Scott Goodwin.

One of John and Evelyn Rice's three children, Pam (Rice) Goodwin of Westminster, Colorado, said Friday's ceremony “was bittersweet — we had said goodbye to our mother when she actually passed away (in January) and now we did it again.” She said “my brother and sister and I were very young when my father was killed,” too young to understand and mourn. Now, Goodwin continued, “coming back with our mother to join our father was like a double mourning for us.”

The eldest Rice grandson, Scott Goodwin, 40, of Westminster, Colorado, lived in Sioux City until age 12, but even in recent years saw his grandmother a few times per year in spite of the distance. “She was just a loving grandmother, a great cook, a great baker, all the things a great grandma is,” Goodwin said.

He had heard of the 1951 burial controversy and queried his grandmother on it, “but she didn't talk about it very much,” Goodwin explained. “She was a very private person, very reserved about her public life. I think it was difficult for her, she just didn't enjoy being in the public spotlight.”

In his remarks at the cemetery, Goodwin said, “I was just trying to put together for myself what her life meant, in both the private and the public life she held, on how she disrupted the status quo and how unwilling people are to change, and how that had to be difficult … and what a fair sense of moral values she had.”

Mackey reported “all the speakers (Friday) talked about the heroism both of John Rice and of Evelyn Rice.” And Scott Goodwin said “the Winnebago Tribe people still talk about how revered John Rice was. It is humbling, but it makes you very proud to know he was all that.”

Mackey said Arlington “is just an amazing cemetery to be in, to see so many men and women who have given their lives for their country.”

Scott Goodwin was proud his grandparents are resting in the same place as the Unknown Soldier and John F. Kennedy, and summarized the scene in Arlington.

“Today is a beautiful day, the sun is shining and this is a beautiful, revered place,” he said. “There is no greater honor than to have your people interred in Arlington National Cemetery. My thought was that it is kind of too bad that we are here, because of the way we got here. … We probably should have been doing this in Memorial Park.”

Remembering Soldiers and Their Families by U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel
May 24, 2006

Memorial Day is a time for solemn remembrance and reflection. We remember the brave men and women who gave their lives in defense of our nation. At cemeteries and memorials across America, in tributes both public and private, we gather to honor those who died in service to our country. On May 12, members of the Sergeant John Rice family of Winnebago, Nebraska paid final tribute to his wife, Evelyn, who was buried at Arlington National Cemetery next to her husband. The history of both Sergeant John and Evelyn Rice serves as an important reminder of the sacrifices soldiers and their families make in defense of freedom.

Sergeant Rice, a Winnebago Native American, was born on Nebraska’s Winnebago reservation in 1914. After high school, he began looking for an opportunity outside of reservation life. He found that opportunity by serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. Rice received a Purple Heart after being wounded and was discharged from the Army in 1945. Rice reenlisted in the Army in 1946, and among the many duties Rice performed were escorting the bodies of war casualties being brought back to the U.S. to be buried.

Rice’s service again brought him into battle in 1950 during the Korean War, where he was killed in combat early in the conflict. It wasn’t until almost a year later that his body was finally returned home to Winnebago. Evelyn arranged for the burial to be at Memorial Park Cemetery in Sioux City, Iowa because it was close to the family and near Winnebago.

Sergeant Rice’s funeral proceeded as planned on August 28, 1951. It wasn’t until after Evelyn and the family left the funeral service that cemetery personnel discovered that Rice was Native American. Evelyn was told that Sergeant Rice’s burial would not be completed due to a cemetery rule that only Caucasians could be buried there. In an effort to try and solve the situation, the cemetery personnel proposed to Evelyn that she could sign a document stating that Rice was Caucasian and they would finish the burial. Evelyn rejected that offer and later stated that, “When these men are in the army, they are all equal and the same. I certainly thought they would be the same after death…”

Two military officers who were present at the funeral alerted army officials in Washington of the funeral’s disruption. The day after Rice’s funeral, news of what happened reached President Harry S. Truman, and he offered Evelyn a space for her husband to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Evelyn accepted the President’s offer and arrangements were made a few days later for a ceremony to take place at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Sergeant Rice is believed to be the first Native American soldier to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Evelyn Rice passed away last year at the age of 83 and was buried earlier this month next to her husband at Arlington National Cemetery. Her courage in refusing to accept anything less than respect and honor for her husband’s service and sacrifice is an example all Nebraskans can be proud of. Evelyn Rice embodied the best of America’s spirit by standing up to injustice during a very difficult time for her and her family, community and country.

We must be vigilant in our efforts to remember the sacrifices of those we honor on Memorial Day. I authored a Senate Resolution, which is now law, to observe a National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00 p.m local time each Memorial Day. Reserving this moment to reflect on Memorial Day is one way to honor those who died in service to our country. I ask everyone to join me this Memorial Day in honoring America’s fallen heroes and their families, like Sergeant John and Evelyn Rice, and thank all those who have served their country in uniform.


DATE OF BIRTH: 04/25/1914
DATE OF DEATH: 09/06/1950

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