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First Sioux Soldier to get Medal of Honor

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  • First Sioux Soldier to get Medal of Honor

    {Master Sgt. Woodrow Wilson Keeble, born in 1917 in Waubay on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Reservation, will be the first Sioux soldier to receive the Medal of Honor when the White House gives him the posthumous honor in a ceremony planned for March 3. Keeble risked his life to save fellow soldiers in the Korean War.}

    Woody Keeble finally will get his Medal of Honor
    By Chuck Haga, Staff Writer
    Grand Forks Herald - 23 February 2008
    Grand Forks Herald

    Already one of the most decorated soldiers in North Dakota history, Master Sgt. Woodrow Wilson Keeble fought on Guadalcanal during World War II and in Korea, earning a Silver Star, Bronze Star, four Purple Hearts for combat wounds and the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second-highest award for bravery in combat.

    The men who witnessed Keeble's actions in Korea on a brutal day in 1951 always believed that the big, burly Dakota Indian from Wahpeton, N.D., should have received the highest award, the Medal of Honor. Every surviving man in his unit signed an official recommendation, but the paperwork was lost.

    Not this time. In a ceremony on March 3 in Washington, Keeble will be awarded the medal posthumously, the White House announced Friday.

    Also Friday, the four U.S. senators from North Dakota and South Dakota, who together championed Keeble's cause, celebrated the decision.

    “This is a proud day for the Keeble family,” Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said in a joint release issued by the four senators. “Woody dedicated his life to defending our nation and preserving our freedom.”

    Added Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.: “Keeble displayed uncommon valor on the battlefield, and this is a long overdue but well-deserved honor for him and his family.”

    Keeble will be the first member of the Sioux Nation to receive the Medal of Honor, the senators noted.

    “It's something that matters to the family and to the tribe, and it should matter to the entire country,” Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said in an interview last year as he and the other Dakotas senators worked with Army and Congressional leaders to advance the plan.

    “What he did as a soldier, the accomplishments and the sacrifices - it's stunning,” Thune said.

    The safest place

    Keeble was born in Waubay, S.D., on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Reservation, but he spent much of his life in Wahpeton, where his father sent him to an Indian school after his mother died.

    He was a big man, 6 feet 6 inches, and a standout baseball player who was scouted by the Chicago White Sox, according to family members. But after Pearl Harbor was attacked and the United States entered World War II, Keeble joined the North Dakota National Guard. In October 1942, his Wahpeton-based Company I, 164th Infantry Regiment (Rifle) was sent to Guadalcanal.

    James Fenelon, another Guadalcanal veteran, spoke about Keeble three years ago in an interview with Prairie Public Television. “The safest place to be was right next to Woody,” Fenelon said. “His gun just never stopped.”

    Keeble re-enlisted when the Korean War broke out.

    According to first-hand accounts, his unit was attacked by Chinese troops on Oct. 20, 1951, and all the officers were killed. Keeble led three charges to rescue soldiers who had been pinned down. He was wounded in his chest, arms and legs, but he made a fourth assault alone and somehow took out four machine guns and killed 16 enemy soldiers. The Chinese retreated.

    “The firsthand accounts of his actions that day read like something out of an old Hollywood movie,” Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said two years ago during the long campaign to get Keeble's bravery and accomplishments recognized.

    “What he did was real,” Johnson said, “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.”

    Home to Dakota

    North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven also praised Friday's announcement and said that he will attend the award ceremony with the state's adjutant general and members of the Keeble family.

    Keeble returned to Wahpeton after the war and worked as a counselor, but a series of strokes left him disabled and unable to speak. He lost his medals; he may have sold them when times were hard or simply gave them away to admirers. He died in 1982 and was buried at Sisseton, S.D.

    In a ceremony in Wahpeton in May 2006, Conrad presented replacement medals for those Keeble lost to members of his family.

    Conrad also promised to keep up the fight for the Medal of Honor.

    “If anybody deserves this highest recognition,” he said, “it is Woody Keeble, bravest of the brave.”

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

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

  • #2
    It's about dam time he got the Medal of Honor!!!!......I've read so much on him and was an inspiration to me when I was sent over....Finally some recognition for this brave soldier.......

    ...And shephards we shall be. For thee my lord, for thee. Power hath descended forth from thy hand. That our feet may swiftly carry out thy command. So we shall flow a river forth to thee. And teeming with souls shall it ever be. E Nomini Patri, E Fili, E Spiritu Sancti.


    • #3
      Congratulations, I'm so glad that he's getting it.


      • #4
        It's about time. My Grandfather spoke highly of this man. Not sure how he knew him or knew of him, but I understand now why he spoke as he did.
        Take nothing for granted. Life can change irrevocably in a heartbeat.

        I will not feed the troll-well, I will try.


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