Woodrow W. Keeble ~ Sioux Native American

Published on June 1, 2012 by Amy

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Woodrow W. Keeble
Woodrow W. Keeble

Woodrow Wilson Keeble (May 16, 1917 – January 28, 1982) was a U.S. Army National Guard veteran of both World War II and the Korean War. He was a full-blooded member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation, a Sioux Native American tribe.

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Following a long campaign by his family and the congressional delegations of both North and South Dakota, on March 3, 2008, President George W. Bush posthumously awarded Keeble the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Korean War. Keeble had previously been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with V device for Valor, the Bronze Star for merit, and the Combat Infantryman Badge (first and second awards). Although he was wounded at least twice in World War II and three times in Korea, he received only two Purple Hearts.

Early life

Keeble was born on May 16, 1917, in Waubay, South Dakota, to Isaac and Nancy (née Shaker) Keeble. While still very young, he moved to Wahpeton, North Dakota, where his mother worked at the Wahpeton Indian School (now called Circle of Nations School). She died when Keeble was still a child. Keeble’s father, who was too impoverished to feed his family, permanently enrolled Woodrow and his siblings in the school.

Keeble excelled in sports, especially baseball, and pitched the Wahpeton amateur team to 10 straight victories. He was being recruited by the Chicago White Sox when his Army National Guard unit was called up to serve in World War II.

World War II

In World War II, Keeble served with I Company of the famed North Dakota 164th Infantry Regiment. After initial training in Louisiana, the regiment carried out various orders in several West Coast locations before being deployed to Australia in preparation for operations in the Pacific Theater. Keeble’s unit was assigned to the Americal Division.

The 164th landed on Guadalcanal on October 13, 1942, to help the battered First Marine Division, which had suffered heavy losses while clearing the South Pacific island of Japanese. The 164th provided the first replacements for the 1st Marines, and although the new boys were green, the exhausted men heartily welcomed the North Dakotans—and their supplies.

Keeble’s regiment of Dakotans was the first United States Army unit to conduct an offensive operation against the enemy in any theater.

Largely because of transport constraints, the Americal Division arrived on Guadalcanal piecemeal, and was fed into combat alongside the battle-hardened Marines. Thus, in contrast to how several US Army divisions were deployed in the Pacific War, the soldiers of the 164th Infantry were able to learn the practical art of jungle warfare against the Japanese without suffering as many casualties as might otherwise have occurred.

The battles on Guadalcanal were some of the most brutal of the war. Japanese troops adopted the Banzai charge, wildly attacking in human waves. Sometimes the hand-to-hand battles would last all through the night.

During these battles, Keeble’s reputation for bravery and skill grew. Nearly a head taller than most of his fellow soldiers, he was an expert with the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). His other great weapon was his pitching arm, which he used to hurl hand grenades with deadly accuracy. James Fenelon, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North & South Dakota who fought with Keeble on Guadalcanal, once remarked, “The safest place to be was right next to Woody.”

Despite its ad hoc formation, the Americal Division fought well at Guadalcanal, the 164th taking on a key role in the defeat of a major Japanese offensive in October 1942. Uniquely, the North Dakotans performed so heroically on Guadalcanal in support of the Marines that they received a Navy Presidential Unit Citation.

After the battles on Guadalcanal, Keeble and the rest of the regiment participated in combat campaigns on the islands of Bougainville, Leyte, Cebu, and Mindanao. Following the Japanese surrender, the entire Americal Division landed in Japan and took part in the occupation of the Yokohama region.

After the war, Keeble returned to Wahpeton and worked at the Wahpeton Indian School. On November 14, 1947, he married Nettie Abigail Owen-Robertson (born March 30, 1917).

Later life

Keeble returned to North Dakota after the Korean War and again worked at the Wahpeton Indian School. Soon after, he was afflicted with tuberculosis, which required that he undergo long-term treatment in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Surgeons ultimately removed one of his lungs, which triggered a series of strokes that rendered him speechless, partially paralyzed and unable to work for the remainder of his life. Nettie, his wife of 14 years, died the following year, leaving Keeble to raise their young son, Earl, alone.

Keeble fell on hard times and is said to have pawned his medals. Nevertheless, and despite his disabilities, Keeble persevered. In 1967, he married Blossom Iris Crawford-Hawkins (born July 18, 1926), the first Sioux woman to complete a Doctorate of Education.

Keeble was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 4324 – Wahpeton, ND.
Keeble died January 28, 1982, and is buried in Sisseton, South Dakota. On May 17, 2008, his tombstone was replaced with a Medal of Honor headstone.

Source: wikipedia

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