Know Your Military

American Indian Soldier's Bravery Earns Medal of Honor

June 14, 2019

Army National Guard Master Sgt. Woodrow W. Keeble might have become a professional baseball pitcher but opted to join the military instead. His heroic actions during the Korean War earned him the military's highest distinction, the Medal of Honor.

Army National Guard Master Sgt. Woodrow W. Keeble was born and raised on the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation and joined the North Dakota National Guard in 1941. He was on track to becoming a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox when his unit was called into active duty.

North Dakota National Guard Master Sgt. Woodrow Keeble
Keeble Portrait
North Dakota National Guard Master Sgt. Woodrow Keeble
Photo By: Photo courtesy Army National Guard
VIRIN: 190614-D-ZZ999-001

Keeble served with Company I, 164th Infantry Regiment – the first Army unit on Guadalcanal. This is where he earned the first of his four Purple Hearts, his first Bronze Star and a reputation as a ferocious fighter. The Marine units that fought with him were so impressed they submitted his name for a Navy Combat Citation.

"The safest place to be was right next to Woody," said James Fenelon, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North and South Dakota, who fought with Keeble on Guadalcanal.

After World War II, Keeble returned home to North Dakota to teach at the Wahpeton Indian School, which he attended as a child.

He then volunteered to return to active duty in January 1951 when the 164th Infantry Regiment reactivated for the Korean War.

"Somebody has to teach these kids how to fight," he said.

By mid-October, Keeble, a salty master sergeant, volunteered to take charge of three platoons after their officers and platoon leaders were wounded or killed in action. A week later, his actions to support his soldiers earned him a Distinguished Service Cross and would later earn him the Medal of Honor.

After seeing one of his platoons pinned down by enemy fire, Keeble single-handedly crawled through and overtook three fortified enemy machine gun positions with his machine gun and some grenades. The company successfully seized its objective and won the battle.

Two men look at a painting of a service member.
Color Portrait
Army Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, left, and painter Vern Skaug preview Skaug’s portrait of Master Sgt. Woodrow W. Keeble in Bismarck, N.D., July 17, 2008.
Photo By: Bill Prokopyk
VIRIN: 190614-D-ZZ999-003

Keeble once again returned to North Dakota after the Korean War. After he lost a lung to tuberculosis, and later lost his wife to illness, he was forced to sell his medals to pay his medical bills. Despite his hardships, Keeble remained a kind-hearted, upbeat man, family and friends said.

Keeble passed away in 1982, leaving behind his children Earl, Russ, and Kathryn; and his second wife, Blossom.

After a long battle to upgrade his Distinguished Service Cross, Keeble's family was finally granted their wish. President George W. Bush passed Keeble's Medal of Honor to his children in a ceremony in March 2008, making Keeble the first member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate to earn the honor. He remains one of the most decorated soldiers in North Dakota history.


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