Wapheton man is first full-blooded Sioux to receive Medal of Honor

More than 50 years after his heroic actions in the Korean War, one of North Dakota's most decorated soldiers will become the first full-blooded Sioux to receive the Medal of Honor, the White House announced Friday.

More than 50 years after his heroic actions in the Korean War, one of North Dakota's most decorated soldiers will become the first full-blooded Sioux to receive the Medal of Honor, the White House announced Friday.

Master Sgt. Woodrow Wilson Keeble, who died in 1982, will receive the honor posthumously during a ceremony at 2:30 p.m. March 3 at the White House, according to the Army News Service. Keeble's stepson, Russell Hawkins, will accept the award on his behalf.

"He clearly deserved the Medal of Honor and never received it," Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said Friday. "I know it's going to be a great source of pride to the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux tribe."

"This guy really did extraordinary things that took great, great courage," he added.

According to the Army and Forum archives, Keeble was born in 1917 in Waubay, S.D., on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Reservation and spent most of his life in the Wahpeton area. He joined the North Dakota National Guard in 1942 and was called into action in World War II later that year.


At Guadalcanal, Keeble was shot in the shoulder but didn't leave the battlefield until the fight was finished.

He earned the Bronze Star and the first of four Purple Hearts for his actions there.

Keeble led three platoons during the Korean War. During Operation Nomad in October 1951, he was wounded twice, both times returning to his men. When they were pinned down by three machine gun nests, Keeble crawled forward alone and eliminated the enemy with hand grenades and gunfire. Eyewitnesses said he was wounded at least five times by grenades during the battle.

"Woody used to tell people he was more concerned about losing his men than about losing his own life," Hawkins told the Army News Service. "He pushed his own life to the limit. He wasn't willing to put his fellow soldiers' lives on the line."

The soldiers in Keeble's company recommended him for the Medal of Honor in November 1951, but the Army lost the paperwork. It was resubmitted on Dec. 10, 1951, but was lost a second time.

Keeble received the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star for his actions in Korea. He was honorably discharged from the Army on March 1, 1953.

In 1972, his family started working to get his Distinguished Service Cross upgraded to a Medal of Honor, but soon learned that a statute of limitations required the medal to be awarded within three years of his heroic actions. They got the congressional delegations from North Dakota and South Dakota involved in the effort in 2002.

Dorgan introduced a bill last March, co-sponsored by the states' other senators, that authorized the president to award the Medal of Honor to Keeble "for his acts of valor during the Korean conflict," notwithstanding the statute of limitations. Congress approved the bill in December.


Dorgan said he learned about two months ago that the Medal of Honor was approved for Keeble, but wasn't able to tell anyone because by tradition only the president may announce recipients of the medal.

"I couldn't be more proud of the people that went to work to put together a reconstruction of the details of Woody Keeble's service to his country," Dorgan said.

Those people included Merry Helm, a Fargo screenwriter who began researching Keeble about three years ago after doing a story about him for a North Dakota Public Radio program.

"I thought, you know, this is just too weird that nobody knows who I'm talking about and yet he's one of the most decorated soldiers in North Dakota," she said.

Helm, who is making a documentary about Keeble, re-created Operation Nomad by interviewing veterans who served with him and researching military records. Among the records was a memo from Capt. Leonard V. Bailey to the commanding officer of the 19th Infantry Regiment of the 24th Division.

"The deeds of M/Sgt. Keeble are practically a legend among members of this battalion," Bailey wrote in the memo.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., called it a proud day for Keeble's family.

"If anyone deserves to be recognized among our nation's greatest heroes, it is Woody Keeble," Conrad said in a news release. "Woody dedicated his life to defending our nation and preserving our freedom. For his extraordinary heroism, our nation owes him a deep debt of gratitude."

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