Monday, March 03, 2008

Woody Keeble Got His Medal of Honor

Woodrow Wilson Keeble stood 6 foot one and weighed 235 and he liked to be called "Woody". He was a barrel chested giant of a man born into the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe May 16, 1917, in Waubay, South Dakota. The Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux reservation stretches across the State border into North Dakota.

In 1942, he joined the N. Dakota National Guard and served with the U.S. Army in World War II and the Korean Conflict. It is for his actions in Korea that Woody was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor today.

During the two wars, Mstr. Sgt. Keeble received two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, the Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross. In all, Keeble won 27 citations, ribbons, and medals which made him the most decorated soldier in North Dakota history. He joins a half dozen other N. Dakota medal of Honor recipients.

His great size and strength placed Woody head and shoulders above his fellows. Veterans tell the story of "when they were out in the sticks and a jeep would pull up with ammunition or mail, Woody would go to the front of the jeep, pick it up by the bumper and turn it around so the driver didn't have to do a U-turn." If you are thinking of Big Bad John right about now, you're probably not alone.

Keeble was part of the Army units that took over the hard fighting from the Marines on the Pacific Island of Guadalcanal. Keeble's stepson, Russell Hawkins said, "His fellow soldiers said he had to fight a lot of hand-to-hand fights with the Japanese, so he saw their faces. Every now and then he would get a faraway look in his eyes, and I knew he was thinking about those men and the things he had to do."

Then came Korea. Keeble volunteered because "somebody has to teach those boys how to fight." Keeble taught them by example. He was leading three platoons up a steep, rugged hill being held by Communist Chinese forces which had fortified the position with three machine gun emplacements. Three separate direct assaults had produced nothing more than heavy casualties for the Americans. Keeble determined that if three platoons couldn't take the hill maybe one man could.

With his rifle and an extra supply of grenades, he started back up the hill. The accuracy of his pitching arm was good enough to get him recruited by the Chicago White Sox, but this day it was the Chinese who were were in the strike zone. Keeble subdued the first trench with a grenade, then the second. He took out the last bunker with rifle fire. He did all this while under intense machine gun fire and enemy grenade explosions. Keeble was hit by 83 grenade fragments "in the chest, both arms, right calf, knee, right thigh and left thigh. One eyewitness said he saw the chest bullet come out of his back." In spite of his wounds, Mstr. Sgt. Keeble refused to be evacuated until his men had established a defensive perimeter and the wounded had been taken to safety.

Having gone through the horrors of two wars, Keeble returned to North Dakota to a series of devastating tragedies. While recovering from his battle wounds, his first wife, Blossom, died. Years later, he was struck down by a series of strokes that paralyzed this once physically active and imposing man and deprived him of speech.

Woodrow Wilson Keeble died in 1982 while friends, family, and Army buddies continued their campaign for the Medal of Honor. The Army says there was a series of screw-ups and missed deadlines that prevented Keeble's records and applications from getting to the right places and people.

Bigotry against American Indians has run a long course and is slowly giving way. There are more than 180,000 American Indian Veterans and many hundreds are currently serving in the Armed Forces. Every one is deserving of the all the honor and respect this nation can muster. They fought for hundreds of years to keep the land that we took by force and trickery, yet the Indian warriors continue selflessly giving their lives in the service of their one time enemy and the land they still love.

To Mstr. Sgt. Keeble, I can only say a humble, pilamaya yelo.

Byron Dorgan, Grand Forks Herald
Doreen Yellowbird, Grand Forks Herald
CNN Politics
The White House

The life of Indigo Red is full of adventure. Tune in next time for the Further Adventures of Indigo Red.


Marie's Two Cents said...

God Bless That Hero :-)

Indigo Rose said...

Thanks, Red, for chosing to write about a hero.
I wish your piece would be enough for us to remember Woody Keeble for as long as we've remembered Ira Hayes.
And why do we remember Ira Hayes? Because Johnny Cash immortalized him in song; singing "drunken Ira Hayes, he don't answer anymore. Not the whiskey drinkin' Indian or the Marine that went to war."
Woody Keeble was a who man lived his life honorably.
Although he did not live to see the day he was honored by our government, he did leave his print upon the minds and lives of those who knew him. I'm sure the Sioux will immortalize this warrior in song and he will live long in stories told around the fire.

Indigo Red said...


Ira Hayes was a WWII Marine of the Pima Nation of American Indians. He fought on Iwo Jima and was one of the men who raised the flag. He has been immortalized as the man on the far left raising the flag in the Iwo Jima Memorial.

Though Hayes did have an alcohol addiction brought about by the war, he was no less a hero because of his actions on Iwo Jima and before.

Tom C said...

Thanks to you Indi for sharing this. Thanks to Mr Keeble for being Mr Keeble. My Uncle was one of the Marines on Iwo Jima the day Ira Hays helped raise the flag. My Dad was army that relieved the Marines in Korea to continue the hill fighting. Brave men, all.

Indigo Rose said...

I did not mean to say Ira Hayes was not an honorable man.... even the song by Johnny Cash was to emphasize the reason he drank.
He fought bravely, raised the flag and when he got home he was forgotten.I hope that Mr Keeble is remembered for the man he was, on and off the battle field.
On a side note: a local man was home recently between tours in Iraq. He pointed out that when going through airports on the East coast he and his fellow Marines were treated well, applauded, praised. By the time he made it to the West Coast very few people said anything to them, and those that did were not always friendly. In his hometown a friend called him a murderer. This young soldier (about 20 yrs old) said he felt sorry for his old friend. That boy had never left town and would never realize he was spreading such an ignorant attitude.
I'm glad this Marine didn't have to go to Berkeley.

Indigo Red said...

I know you didn't mean Ira Hayes was not an honorable man. Some folks don't know his story. Unforunately many people still think of American Indians as alcoholics. Hayes had a drinking problem, but like many veterans, it was because of war, not their ethnicity.

We personally knew a real life American Indian war hero who also was addicted to drink after WWII. Sam Glover prarchuted into Europe on D-Day with the 101st Airborne and witnessed many horrible things in a very short time. Sam did what he had to do in Normandy, but he never recovered from June 1944.

Sam lived with alcohol and it eventually killed him. Sam Glover was a hero when it counted. The booze isn't important.

Indigo Rose said...

I remember Sam. He is one of the few childhood memories I have. What little I know about Sam now, I learned as I was older. I just remember he was always welcome in our home.