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