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Wahpeton war hero given Rough Rider award

HANKINSON, N.D. (AP) - The late Woodrow Wilson Keeble, the only full-blooded Sioux Indian to receive the nation's top military honor, has now been given North Dakota's highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider award.

At Wednesday's ceremony, Gov. John Hoeven unveiled a portrait of Keeble that will hang in the state Capitol.

"He is truly an American hero. He belongs to this entire nation," Hoeven said.

Keeble was born on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux reservation in Waubay, S.D., and grew up in Wahpeton. He joined the North Dakota National Guard in 1942, and served in both World War II and the Korean War. He died in 1982 at age 65.

President Bush awarded Keeble the Medal of Honor posthumously in March.

"This ceremony is justification in giving this award to Uncle Woody, as he was known to many of us," said Mike Selvage, chairman of the chairman of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate. "Uncle Woody has the distinction of being the most decorated soldier in North Dakota and South Dakota."

Keeble is credited with saving the lives of his comrades during the Korean War in October 1951, by taking out more than a dozen of their enemies on a steep hill while he himself was wounded. He was treated for more than 80 shrapnel wounds the day before.

Command Sgt. Maj. Gerald L. Miller, one of several speakers at Wednesday's ceremony, called Keeble the backbone of his unit, even though he wasn't a commissioned officer. All of the officers were either killed or wounded when he led the charge on Oct. 20, 1951.

"His decision to rush and destroy three enemy positions while he himself was wounded, I'm confident nobody ordered him to do that," Miller said.

Butch Felix, a tribal member and master of ceremonies, said Keeble volunteered for a combat assignment in Korea, after his superiors had requested members of the unit to draw straws.

"He said, 'Someone has to teach these young men how to fight,'" Felix said.

Jim Fenelon, a fellow veteran and enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, said Keeble was also known a great athlete who played baseball, football and basketball. His ability as a pitcher helped him with his accuracy at throwing hand grenades, Fenelon said.

"He was one tough competitor," Fenelon said.

Russell Hawkins, Keeble's stepson, described Keeble as humble, kind, generous and deeply religious. Even though Keeble's knees were swollen and painful nearly every day, he always knelt down for communion, Hawkins said.

"And whenever there was a prayer, his head would be bowed the lowest," Hawkins said.

Hawkins recalled one time as a young boy when he came home from playing on a rainy and muddy day. His mother made him leave his shoes outside the house. The next day, he found them dry, clean and polished.

"Woody was just smiling," Hawkins said. "Here you have this great man, great soldier and great warrior, yet he still took the time to clean the shoes of his stepson who didn't have the sense to clean them himself."