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President Awards Medal of Honor to Woodrow Keeble

Thune Attends White House Ceremony

March 3, 2008

Washington, D.C. —  President Bush today posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to Master Sergeant Woodrow Keeble in recognition of his service during the Korean War. Master Sergeant Keeble was a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe and is the first Dakota Sioux to receive the Medal of Honor. Senator John Thune was present at the presentation ceremony at the White House.

"Master Sergeant Keeble went beyond the call of duty not for a medal, but for the mission he believed in and the country he loved," said Thune. "His legacy is a great source of pride for his family, his fellow South Dakota Sioux, and all Americans. The example he set for the just cause of defending freedom and democracy is truly heroic."

On approximately October 15, 1951, in the vicinity of Kumsong, North Korea, all of the officers of the G Company were either wounded or killed during enemy combat. Master Sergeant Keeble voluntarily led the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Platoons in three successful assaults. Armed with grenades and a rifle, Keeble then single handedly eliminated three four-man pillboxes. Keeble was severely wounded with at least five separate injuries to his chest, both arms, and both legs. Master Sergeant Keeble was decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star First Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Purple Heart with the Oak Leaf Cluster. He was recommended for the Medal of Honor, but never received it.

"After years of working diligently to get this great American the recognition he so rightfully deserves, I am proud to have been present to see Master Sergeant Keeble's family finally receive his Medal of Honor. His courage and bravery are undoubtedly deserving of this recognition after a 55 year wait. The Medal of Honor marks the utmost respect and eternal gratitude this nation will forever hold for Master Sergeant Keeble - a true American hero."

Last week on the Senate Floor, Senator Thune delivered remarks on the heroic actions of Master Sergeant Woodrow Keeble. Below is the text of Senator Thune's speech.

Mr. THUNE. Mr. President today I rise to honor Master Sergeant Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Keeble for earning the Medal of Honor for his heroic service to our country in World War II and the Korean War. Although President Bush won't present the medal to Master Sergeant Keeble's family until next Monday, this is indeed an historic event as he is the first member of the Great Sioux Nation to be awarded this honor.

Master Sergeant Keeble went beyond the call of duty not for a medal, but for the mission he believed in and the country he loved. His legacy is a great source of pride for his family, his fellow South Dakota Sioux, and all Americans. The example he set for the just cause of defending freedom and democracy is truly heroic.

Master Sergeant Keeble was born in Waubay, South Dakota, in 1917 to parents from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux tribe. Master Sergeant Keeble's mother died at a young age, forcing his father to enroll him in the Wahpeton Indian School so he could get an education and three meals a day.

After graduating, Master Sergeant Keeble worked at the school and became well known for his baseball pitching -- a skill that would serve him well in combat. In fact, the Chicago White Sox were actively recruiting him to play professional baseball when he was called into action in World War II.

After basic training, Master Sergeant Keeble served with "I" Company of North Dakota's 164th Infantry Regiment. He trained in Louisiana and was soon deployed to Australia to prepare for operations in the Pacific Theater. There, Master Sergeant Keeble's regiment was assigned to the 23rd Infantry Division, better known as the Americal Division.

On October 13, 1942, Master Sergeant Keeble landed on Guadalcanal in support of the First Marine Division, which had suffered heavy losses from the relentless Japanese forces. This was the first offensive operation the United States Army had conducted against the enemy in any theater of World War II.
Fighting alongside Marines, Master Sergeant Keeble gained valuable experience in jungle warfare that would later prove valuable in future operations.

The campaign on Guadalcanal saw some of the most brutal combat of the war. Japanese troops adopted the "Banzai Charge" tactic of attacking in human waves and hand-to-hand combat would sometimes last through the night. During this operation, Master Sergeant Keeble developed expert control of his Browning Automatic Rifle. He also earned a reputation for bravery as one of the best fighters on the island because his pitching skills came in handy as he
used his incredibly strong arm to effectively throw grenades into enemy bunkers. James Fenelon, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who fought beside Master Sergeant Keeble once said, "The safest place to be was right next to Woody. I don't know how many rounds he carried, but he had bandoliers on each shoulder. His gun just never stopped- no matter where you were, there were Japanese. He was unbelievable."

Master Sergeant Keeble was awarded his first Bronze Star and Purple Heart at Guadalcanal for his meritorious actions in ground operations against the Japanese. His division fought so valiantly that they received a Navy Presidential Unit Citation for their support of the Marines. After Japan surrendered, the 164th occupied the Yokohama region of Japan.

After the war, Master Sergeant Keeble returned to Wahpeton and resumed work at the Wahpeton Indian School. He married Nattie Abigail Owen-Robertson on November 14, 1947 and settled down to start a family.

However, Master Sergeant Keeble's rest would not be a long one as the 164th was reactivated in 1951 to serve in the Korean War. After training at Camp Rucker, Alabama, several of Master Sergeant Keeble's fellow sergeants were to be selected for deployment to the front lines in Korea. After agreeing to draw straws to decide who would take this unwanted duty, Master Sergeant Keeble volunteered to take a short straw saying, "Somebody has to teach these kids how to fight."

The leadership and bravery Master Sergeant Keeble displayed in volunteering continued through his time in Korea. He was assigned to George Company, 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. His strong character, robust leadership, and jungle combat experience brought him several quick promotions to the level of Master Sergeant. The Regimental leadership saw his potential, and placed him in charge of the first platoon.

On October 15, 1951, in a particularly bloody battle near Kumsong, North Korea, all of the officers of G Company were either wounded or killed in combat. Master Sergeant Keeble was among the wounded, but demanded he be released after treatment and volunteered to lead the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Platoons in assaults against the enemy.

On October 17, Master Sergeant Keeble was again wounded, and again returned to battle after being treated. His actions on the following day, October 18, earned him the Silver Star for continuing to lead his men after being hit by grenade shrapnel. During this battle, Master Sergeant Keeble suffered two bullet wounds to his left arm, a grenade blast near his face that nearly removed his nose, and a badly twisted knee. On October 19, doctors removed 83 pieces of shrapnel from Master Sergeant Keeble's wounds.

The following day, October 20, 1951, would prove to be Master Sergeant Keeble's most heroic. After insisting he be allowed back to combat, Master Sergeant Keeble cemented his place in history. While leading the 1st Platoon up a steep hill during this battle, he saw that machine gun fire from three enemy emplacements had pinned down the entire 2nd Platoon on the same hill. The steep, rocky terrain was of tactical importance and Master Sergeant Keeble took it upon himself to ensure the operation carried on.

Master Sergeant Keeble crawled ahead to the 2nd Platoon. He then continued to advance on the enemy by crawling forward on his own. Although the enemy began to train all of its fire on Master Sergeant Keeble, he continued to hug the ground and advance until he was close to the emplacements. He then activated a grenade and successfully destroyed one of the enemy positions. Continuing his assault, Master Sergeant Keeble moved towards the remaining two machine gun posts and single handedly destroyed both of them with grenades. After removing the last position, he was stunned with an enemy concussion grenade, but pressed on after he recovered. Master Sergeant Keeble then resumed his advance and neutralized the remaining enemy personnel with his rifle.

In all, Master Sergeant Keeble eliminated nine machine gunners and seven riflemen. His heroic determination to press on and endure enemy fire inspired his fellow servicemen to rally and continue advancing on the enemy. By the end of the campaign, Master Sergeant Keeble had received five separate wounds to his chest, both arms, and both legs. Despite all of these injuries, Master Sergeant Keeble only received one Purple Heart, with the Oak Leaf Cluster, bringing his total to two. He was also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Bronze Star First Oak Leaf Cluster.

Although he has been recommended twice for the Medal of Honor, it was never granted. That is why I rise today and honor Master Sergeant Keeble for finally being recognized for his truly remarkable heroism and valor. While he died in 1982 in part due to complications resulting from his war injuries, I am sure he would be proud to know that he has finally been given this honor he earned long ago.

Master Sergeant Keeble stood proudly for his country, his tribe and his family. He was strong, humble, compassionate, and committed to defending freedom. His actions were extraordinary and his bravery overcame the chaos that surrounded him. Master Sergeant Keeble once said, "There were terrible moments that encompassed a lifetime, an endlessness, when terror was so strong in me, that I could feel idiocy replace reason. Yet, I have never left my position, nor have I shirked hazardous duty. Fear did not make a coward out of me."

I am proud that next Monday, President Bush will be presenting this honor posthumously to Master Sergeant Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Keeble. His bravery is undoubtedly deserving of the Medal of Honor he has finally been awarded after a 55 year wait. The legacy he has left is a source of pride for his family, the Great Sioux Nation, and the country he nobly served.