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American Indian veteran to receive posthumous honor

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    American Indian veteran to receive posthumous honor
    The Associated Press
    Rapid City Journal - 25 April 2007

    SIOUX FALLS — Congressional conferees have approved legislation allowing President Bush to award a posthumous Medal of Honor to Woodrow Wilson Keeble, a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe who fought in World War II and the Korean War.

    Keeble, who died in 1982, is credited with saving his fellow soldiers’ lives in 1951 during the Korean War while he was wounded.

    He was given more than 30 citations, including four Purple Hearts and the Army’s second-highest commendation, the Distinguished Service Cross.

    But Pentagon officials have told Congress that a statute of limitation prevents the president from awarding the Medal of Honor to Keeble unless he is specifically authorized by Congress.

    “Woodrow Wilson Keeble displayed uncommon valor in battle, and our nation owes him a debt of gratitude for his service,” Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said in a release. “It’s not for me to decide who gets a Medal of Honor, but a technicality should not prevent the president from giving this award to one of our heroes.”

    The statement also quoted Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D.

    “I first started working on Woodrow Keeble’s case back in 2002. Getting this provision signed into law would be a hurdle cleared in the worthy fight for Woodrow Keeble, who valiantly fought for this nation. It is my hope that once this time limit is waived, that the Department of Defense and eventually the president will give Keeble the consideration he is due,” Johnson has said.

    Dorgan and Johnson are on the House-Senate conference committee that negotiated the final version of the emergency supplemental appropriations bill. Once passed, the legislation would clear the way for the secretary of Defense to send Keeble’s nomination to the president for approval.

    ************************************************** ************

    Momentum grows to honor Lakota veteran's Korean War heroics
    By Chuck Haga
    Minneapolis-St. Paul, Star Tribune - 20 April 2007
    Follow the StarTribune for the news, photos and videos from the Twin Cities and beyond.

    All four U.S. senators from the Dakotas have signed a private bill to posthumously award the Medal of Honor to Master Sgt. Woodrow Keeble.

    Everybody who learns of Master Sgt. Woodrow (Woody) Keeble's heroics during the Korean War believes he should have received the nation's highest military honor.
    The men who watched him that day in 1951 -- they all believed it.

    But despite an official recommendation -- signed by every surviving man in his unit -- Keeble never received the Medal of Honor. The paperwork was lost -- twice -- and never reviewed by appropriate authorities.

    That may soon change.

    All four U.S. senators representing North Dakota and South Dakota have signed on to a private bill authorizing President Bush to waive the usual three-year time limit and award the medal posthumously to Keeble, who died in 1982.

    "It's something that matters to the family and to the tribe, and it should matter to the entire country," said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. "What he did as a soldier, the accomplishments and sacrifices, it's stunning. If anybody is worthy of a Congressional Medal of Honor, Sgt. Keeble certainly was."

    Keeble was a Lakota Indian from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Reservation, which straddles the eastern Dakotas at the Minnesota border. He was 6 feet, 6 inches tall and solidly built, a natural leader.

    His men called him Chief.

    Maybe for some it was a disparaging term, a condescending stereotype.

    "I think most Indians in the Army were called 'Chief' then," said Kurt Bluedog, laughing. "My brother, when he was in the Army, was called Chief, and he resented it. But Woody took it as an honor."

    Bluedog, 57, a Twin Cities attorney, is Keeble's nephew.

    "He was a large, imposing man, but he was quiet, almost shy unless he was with people he knew, and then he was jovial -- a good guy to be around," Bluedog said. "And military service is highly honored among Indian people."

    Korea was Keeble's second war, and he earned more medals there -- a Silver Star, several Purple Hearts and a Distinguished Service Cross among them -- to go with the awards he had earned fighting the Japanese in close combat on Guadalcanal early in World War II.

    'Safest place ... right next to Woody'

    Keeble was born in Waubay, S.D., at the western edge of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Reservation. His family was poor and, after his mother died, his father sent him to an Indian school in Wahpeton.

    Keeble worked at the school after graduation. He also played some baseball -- well enough that the Chicago White Sox gave him a look.

    But when the United States entered World War II, Keeble joined the North Dakota National Guard, and in October 1942 he was on Guadalcanal.

    "The safest place to be was right next to Woody," said James Fenelon, a Guadalcanal veteran who spoke two years ago with North Dakota's Prairie Public Television.

    "He had bandoleers on each shoulder," Fenelon said. "His gun just never stopped."

    For his actions on Guadalcanal, Keeble received a Purple Heart -- the first of four -- and a Bronze Star.

    When the Korean War broke out, Keeble enlisted again.

    On Oct. 20, 1951, his unit was attacked by Chinese troops. With all officers dead, he led three charges seeking to relieve a platoon pinned down by enemy fire, according to eyewitness accounts. Then, despite wounds to his chest, arms and legs, he made a fourth assault on his own, single-handedly taking out four machine guns, killing 16 enemy soldiers and forcing a Chinese retreat.

    "The firsthand accounts of his actions that day read like something out of an old Hollywood movie," Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said last year.

    "What he did was real, and his bravery in the face of enemy fire was so remarkable that the men in his company twice submitted recommendations that he receive the Medal of Honor. In both cases, the recommendation was lost."

    Thune, who has championed Keeble's case for several years at the request of family members and tribal authorities, said that private bills on behalf of individuals are rare and difficult to get passed.

    "There's not much of a precedent for doing this sort of thing," he said. "But the secretary of the Army has signed off, and that's a big deal."

    After the war, Keeble worked as a counselor until he was disabled by strokes. At 42, he lost the ability to speak. As his circumstances grew bleak, he sold or gave away his medals.

    In a ceremony in Wahpeton last May, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., presented a full set of replacement medals to members of Keeble's family. And he told them there should be one more.

    "If anybody deserves this highest recognition," Conrad said, "it is Woody Keeble, bravest of the brave."

    ************************************************** **

    Mst. Sgt. Woodrow W. Keeble was in Co G, 19th Ing Reg, 24th Inf Div, U.S. Army while in Korea 1951-1952.

    "Be good, be kind, help each other."
    "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

    --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)

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