Woody Keeble Finally, a Medal of Honor
WHAPETON, N.D. ñ Woodrow Wilson (Woody) Keeble has finally been given his rightful place among the heroes of World War II and the Korean War. Keeble, a Dakota Sioux from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, died in 1982 never knowing he would receive a Medal of Honor. An unassuming, gentle and kind man, he was an unlikely prospect for a war hero who rose to the occasion in combat. ìWoody,î as he is most affectionately called, was a large man, but very soft-spoken. ìItís hard to believe he had the warrior-like capabilities because outside of a war setting, he was so likeable,î said Kurt Blue Dog, a relative of Keeble. ìHe would visit quite a bit; he was very jovial and full of life, a big man, good-natured. He filled a room up by himself and made everyone feel upbeat,î he said. Stories from his fellow soldiers pointed out that Woody ñ known also as ìthe chiefî ñ was the guy any of them would follow anywhere, Blue Dog said. Some of those soldiers thought Woody had already received the Medal of Honor, but as it turns out the letter recommending this honor was never received at the Pentagon. His first sergeant had the responsibility of recommending awards and special commendations. That, as far as the first sergeant was concerned had been done. Keeble was serving with G Company of the 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, during operation Nomad, the final major offensive by U.S. forces in the Korean War. It took work from Congress to bring the Medal of Honor to Keebleís family. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., at the request of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribal Council, wrote the secretary of the Army. All the work by the tribal council and Woodyís family and friends over the years finally paid off. The National Congress of American Indians passed a resolution supporting this award and the state of South Dakota Legislature passed resolutions favoring the honor. ìAfter giving this request my careful and personal consideration, it is my recommendation that the award of the Medal of Honor is the appropriate award to recognize Master Sgt. Woodrow W. Keebleís gallant act. ìThis brave soldier clearly distinguished himself through his courageous actions. The Army and our Nation are forever grateful for his heroic service,î wrote Secretary of the Army Francis J. Harvey in a letter to Johnson. Keeble was given the award for his actions near Kumson, North Korea, in 1951. Accounts of his actions point to the fact that while wounded he single-handedly silenced three enemy machine-gun emplacements. The request for the medal was submitted twice, but lost both times. Russ Hawkins, Sisseton-Wahpeton and Keebleís stepson, said the award is wonderful for the family, the states of North and South Dakota and for the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate. The Sisseton-Wahpeton reservation is located in both states. Keebleís wife, Blossom Hawkins-Keeble, worked for more than 25 years to get to the day the award would be granted. The timing of the announcement for the Medal of Honor came during a special honor ceremony where the family was to receive a duplicate set of medals awarded to Keeble. At the time, the gathered friends and family were to honor Keebleís distinguished service awards of the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Distinguished Service Cross. Army regulations were against Keeble receiving the Medal of Honor. It requires that the request must come within three years of the event. Since the recommendations had been lost twice, that deadline was missed. In the 1990s Congress looked as the laws on medals and required a review of Japanese and Pacific Islanders. Subsequent to that law there was a requirement to review the files of black Americans in WWII. Later reviews of Jewish and Mexican-Americans were opened, but no request for American Indians. Congressional action then allowed a congressman or senator to submit a request for a review of the military service files. That is what led to Keebleís Medal of Honor. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush must also sign off on the award before it is official.