An American Hero: Master Sgt Woodrow W. Keeble

Section 563 of the NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FY 2008, signed into law on 28 January 2008 reads as follows:

(a) . WAIVER OF TIME LIMITATIONS—Notwithstanding the time limitations specified in section 3744 oftitle 10, United States Code, or any other time limitation with respect to the awarding of certain medals to persons who served in the Armed Forces, the President is authorized and requested to award the Medal of Honor undersection 3741 of such title to WOODROW W. KEEBLE for the acts of valor described in subsection (b).

(b) .—The acts of valor referred to in subsection (a) are the actions of Woodrow W. Keeble of the United States Army as an acting platoon leader on October 20, 1950, during the Korean War.

Woodrow W. Keeble was born on May 16, 1917 in Waubay, on the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation in Roberts County, South Dakota [which borders Richland County, North Dakota–the reservation is in both states]. His parents were Isaac Buffalo Keeble (1869-1942) and Nancy Canziwin Keeble [whose Indian name is given as “Gigiyena Canjinwin” on an early Indian census]. They were members of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate bands of the Isanti [or Santee] Dakota [Sioux] people.

“Woody” was described by family and friends as a big, jovial man. He was six feet, six inches tall and an accomplished athlete. Some reports say he was being scouted by major league baseball teams, in particular, the Chicago White Sox, in the 1930’s. But before the Pearl Harbor attack, Woody Keeble had enlisted in the North Dakota National Guard. On February 10, 1941, President Roosevelt ordered Keeble’s unit, the 164th Infantry Regiment, to federal active duty.

The 164th was first sent to Louisiana for training with units from Minnesota and Iowa. Then, the 164th was shipped to Australia for eventual staging to New Caledonia. There, the 164th became part of the “Americal Division,” and was sent to Guadalcanal.

Arriving on October 13, 1942, the 164th encountered brutal fighting alongside U.S. Marines. The 164th became the first Army unit to take offensive action in World War II. The regiment suffered 117 men killed in the first five days of fighting. By the time the 164th left Guadalcanal for Bougainville in the Solomon Islands in February 1943, another thirty soldiers had been killed.

Woody Keeble aqcuitted himself well in battle. In 2005, a comrade, James Fenelon, told Prairie Public Radio, “The safest place to be was right next to Woody. I don’t know how many rounds he carried, but he had bandoliers on each shoulder. His gun just never stopped – no matter where you were there were Japanese. He was unbelievable.”

Keeble received the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts for his World War II service.

When the Korean War broke out, the 164th Infantry was again ordered to active duty. Keeble volunteered t go to Korea. Assigned to the 19th Infantry, 24th Division, Keeble would distinguish himself in ways beyond imagination.

In October, 1951, Keeble’s company was assigned to take a hill protecting a Chinese Communist depot. Reports say that in the week of October 13, 1951, Keeble had been wounded about four times. But there was more to come. The Pacific Stars and Stripes dated October 24, 1952 ( a year later) tells what happened:

The platoon was pinned down by heavy fire coming from three [Communist] bunkers on a hill near Sang-Ni.

Keeble crawled forward alone and destroyed two of the [Communist] bunkers with grenades. He was stunned by a concussion grenade, but after regaining consciousness, he renewed his one-man assault and killed the Communists in the third enemy machinegun nest with rifle fire.

Keeble’s actions saved the lives of his platoon and enabled them to secure their objective.

For this action, Keeble was recommended for the Medal of Honor, not once, but three times. Each time, “the paperwork got lost.” Keeble eventually receive the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross, second in precedence to the Medal of Honor.

The men who served under Keeble kept alive the effort to get him the Medal of Honor. The problem was that the time limit for approval of the Medal of Honor (three years from the time of the events) ran out. Now it would take an Act of Congress to get him the award.

In the meantime, Keeble returned home. He eventually fell ill and into financial difficulty. He pawned all of his medals. The Dakotas’ most decorated soldier died at age 65 in 1982.

The quest to award Woodrow Keeble the Medal of Honor continued after his death. In 2007, the Secretary of the Army reviewed documentation of the battle and agreed that Keeble’s actions met the criteria for award of the Medal of Honor.

In 2007, with the support of the congressional delegations from North Dakota and South Dakota, both Democrat and Republican, legislation was introduced to award Master Sergeant Woodrow Wilson Keeble the Medal of Honor. That legislation passed the Congress and was signed by the President on January 28, 2008, as part of the Fiscal Year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act. It is expected that later this year, Woody Keeble’s family will travel to Washington and accept the Medal of Honor at the White House.

The son of parents who could recall the brutal bitterness between the Sioux and the U.S. Army, Woodrow W. Keeble will become the first Sioux be awarded the Medal of Honor.

OFF
Craig

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