Following a three year effort led by Senators Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, Master Sgt. Woodrow Wilson Keeble was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor today. President Bush presented the nation’s highest military honor to Keeble’s family at a White House ceremony.
A member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Sioux, Keeble is one of the most decorated soldiers in history, yet he was never considered for the Medal of Honor due to bureaucratic mix-ups. It was only after years of work by the Keeble family — with assistance from Senators Conrad and Dorgan — that Keeble was formally considered for the Medal of Honor. “This day is long overdue. Master Sgt. Keeble is finally getting the public recognition he deserves for his loyalty, devotion and sacrifice for our country,” Senator Conrad said. “Master Sgt. Keeble is now a member of the most exclusive circle, one of ordinary individuals who, when called upon, performed extraordinary acts of bravery. They are the best of the best and Master Sgt. Keeble stands amongst them.” “The criteria for the Medal of Honor include deeds of personal bravery and self-sacrifice that distinguish an individual. When I first read the stories of what Woodrow Wilson Keeble had done, it was clear that this is an honor that fits him,” Senator Dorgan said. “His bravery on the battlefield saved a lot of American lives, and today’s ceremony finally brought him the recognition he deserves. That should be a source of pride for his family, the state of North Dakota, and all American Indians.” Woodrow Wilson Keeble was born in 1917 in Waubay, South Dakota. As a child he moved to Wahpeton, North Dakota. When he was old enough, Keeble joined the North Dakota National Guard and, in 1942, shipped out to the South Pacific with the North Dakota 164th Infantry Regiment. On the island of Guadalcanal, Keeble saw some of the most intense combat of WWII. In late October 1942, Keeble – known by his fellow soldiers as Chief – was wounded in an attempt to rescue his comrades. He was recognized for his actions and awarded his first Bronze Star and the first of his Purple Hearts. Keeble returned to service in the Korean War. On Oct. 20, 1951 he was near Kumsong battling the Chinese. With his fellow soldiers pinned down by heavy enemy gunfire Keeble – already wounded – made his way up a hill and took out three machine gun bunkers. During the assault Keeble was hit multiple times, but he continued to fight, taking out two trenches of enemy troops, and finally forcing the enemy to retreat. For his action, Keeble’s men twice recommended him for the Medal of Honor, but the paperwork was lost. Keeble instead received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second-highest commendation. Following his service in Korea, Keeble returned to North Dakota where he worked as a counselor until a series of strokes rendered him unable to work. He died in 1982, at the age of 65 and is buried in Sisseton, South Dakota. Even after his death, his family continued to work to have Keeble’s Distinguished Service Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor. However, law required that the award of the Medal of Honor be presented within three years of the date of the heroic action. Only an Act of Congress could overcome the statute of limitations.
In 2002, the Keeble family reached out to the senators from North and South Dakota. For the past several years, Senators Dorgan and Conrad have been working with Senators Tim Johnson and John Thune to get Keeble’s Distinguished Service Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor. The senators successfully introduced legislation to award Keeble the medal, and it was signed by the president last year.