View Full Version : Korean War hero receives posthumous Medal of Honor

03-05-08, 07:49 AM
Korean War hero receives posthumous Medal of Honor
By Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Wednesday, March 5, 2008

WASHINGTON — Over the years, Master Sgt. Woodrow Wilson Keeble told his stepson all about his time in Korea, including the hillside raid where he single-handedly took out three enemy pillboxes as gunfire and grenades rained down around him.

But he left out that tanks sent earlier had been beaten back by the same fighters, and that air support nearly napalmed his position, and that fewer support munitions were covering his path than he thought.

Russell Hawkins found out those details from his own research, after his stepfather passed away.

“He must have known about the napalm,” he said. “But Woody wasn’t with the comm guys. With the tanks and the Quad .50s (machine guns), it’s possible he didn’t know the full gravity of the situation, or just how heroic he was.”

On Monday, Keeble was awarded the nation’s highest military recognition, the Medal of Honor, for his selfless heroism that day in October 1951. President Bush presented the honor beside two empty chairs, commemorating the solider and his late wife.

“On behalf of our grateful nation, I deeply regret that this tribute comes decades too late,” Bush told the crowd. “But there are some things we can still do for him. We can tell his story. We can honor his memory.”

Hillside heroism

Even before his tour in Korea, Keeble had a record of bravery in battle. Army officials had awarded him the Bronze Star and four Purple Hearts for actions in the South Pacific during World War II, including brutal hand-to-hand combat in Guadalcanal.

In Korea, he served with Company G of the 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Division. Army records say that on Oct. 15, 1951, Keeble was forced to take the lead of not only his platoon but two others as well, because of injuries to numerous field commanders.

After three unsuccessful attempts to take the rocky hillside from Chinese forces, Keeble planned a solo assault on the three machine gun posts which had inflicted heavy casualties on his men.

Hawkins, as a teen, heard numerous times from his stepfather how he crept up the hill, rolling into and out of trenches, flanking the first pillbox and lobbing grenades inside to kill its gunners.

Keeble was a large man – over six feet tall and 240 pounds by the time he reached Korea – but he was known amongst his fellow soldiers for his stealth as well as his strength.

Hawkins said one time he asked Keeble how a man his size could duck in and out of trenches, and make his way up the hillside to the pillboxes without immediately being spotted and shot.

“He showed me how he rolled in and out of trenches, how he moved along the ground,” he said. “I thought I understood it.”

Later that day, as Hawkins was finishing mowing the lawn, he suddenly found himself pulled from behind the mower and thrown onto the ground. Keeble had snuck behind some low bushes outside, and pounced when his stepson got close enough.

“I guess that’s how he did it,” Hawkins said.

Eyewitness accounts said enemy forces trained their fire on the 6-foot Keeble as he moved back to his platoon and back up the ridge line to the next pillbox. He was peppered him with shrapnel.

But the wounds didn’t stop him, and he successfully eliminated the other two pillboxes, allowing his company to take the hill. That night, after his unit had taken defensive positions, he agreed to be medically evacuated to treat his injuries.

Army physicians later removed 83 grenade fragments from his body. Hawkins said Keeble carried more inside until the day he died.

A long wait

Keeble received a Distinguished Service Cross in 1952 for his actions, but Army officials misplaced letters from every surviving member of his company requesting he receive the Medal of Honor.

After he died in 1982, his wife and family fought to have his record reopened and the honor granted to him. Lawmakers intervened last year, passing legislation allowing the military to reopen and re-examine the North Dakota native’s case.

Bush called Keeble a “gentle giant” and an exemplary soldier whose credit was long overdue. Hawkins said the family is now looking to put Keeble’s medal on display in a museum, to help tell his story to future generations.

Hawkins said despite numerous conversations with Keeble about his military service, he never asked him why he frequently put himself at risk ahead of his men. That answer was obvious, he said.

“It seems like every situation he came to, he acted heroically,” Hawkins said. “He was just a patriotic individual who loved his country and gave everything he could.”

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03-05-08, 08:03 AM
Native Americans take pride in Medal of Honor recipient Keeble’s story
By Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Wednesday, March 5, 2008

WASHINGTON — Master Sgt. Woodrow Wilson Keeble is the first full-blooded Sioux Indian to receive the Medal of Honor, a point of pride for both his tribe and the larger Native American community.

“The history of [Native American military service] is well known to our younger generation, but probably not in mainstream America,” said Robert Holden, deputy director of the National Congress of American Indians.

“But they’ve continued a long line of warrior tradition. It’s their duty.”

Keeble was born on the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation, home to the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux — on the North Dakota-South Dakota border — and spent nearly all of his pre-Army life on tribal lands. After his service in World War II and Korea, he returned there to live and work with the community.

Nephew Kurt Bluedog said Keeble was active in several veterans groups within the reservations, part of thousands of Sioux members who fought in Germany, the Pacific and Korea after their tribal nations declared war in support of the United States.

“All of these soldiers were incredible people who decided to serve,” he said.

Stepson Russell Hawkins said Keeble’s war valor made him a local hero and an icon for many other tribes.

“And hopefully it will raise the profile of the tribes today, too,” he said. “So often, we’re only mentioned when there’s a controversy or a fight over tribal lands. It’s nice to have a positive story, where everyone can see a patriotic individual who was a member of the Great Sioux nation.”

More than 44,000 Native Americans took part in World War II, with many, like Keeble, staying in the service and fighting in Korea as well.

Today more than 22,300 active-duty servicemembers are Native Americans, about 1.6 percent of the total force. Another 1,055 serve in the Coast Guard, about 2.6 percent of that force.

Holden said Native American veterans groups have closely followed Keeble’s story, and see the Medal of Honor as both recognition and opportunity for the community.

“How he performed his duty is a military story, but his life is a Native American story of service,” he said. “This is our homeland, so it’s our homeland security, too.”