Thursday, October 20, 2011

TFH 10/20: Master Sergeant Woodrow W. Keeble

Woodrow Wilson Keeble was born on May 16, 1917. He was a full-blooded member of the Sisseton Wapheton Oyate, a Sioux. He served with distinction and great heroism during both World War II and the Korean War.

Sixty years ago today, Master Sergeant Keeble ignored multiple wounds to his left arm and face because he refused to let his platoon attack a hilltop that was a Chinese Communist stronghold without him: leadership is from the front!

From Medal of Honor Citations for the Korean War:


Rank and Organization:Master Sergeant, U.S. Army. Place and date: Korea, 20 October 1951.
Master Sergeant Woodrow W. Keeble distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy near Sangsan-ni, Korea, on October 20, 1951. On that day, Master Sergeant Keeble was an acting platoon leader for the support platoon in Company G, 19th Infantry, in the attack on Hill 765, a steep and rugged position that was well defended by the enemy. Leading the support platoon, Master Sergeant Keeble saw that the attacking elements had become pinned down on the slope by heavy enemy fire from three well-fortified and strategically placed enemy positions. With complete disregard for his personal safety, Master Sergeant Keeble dashed forward and joined the pinned-down platoon. Then, hugging the ground, Master Sergeant Keeble crawled forward alone until he was in close proximity to one of the hostile machine-gun emplacements. Ignoring the heavy fire that the crew trained on him, Master Sergeant Keeble activated a grenade and threw it with great accuracy, successfully destroying the position. Continuing his one-man assault, he moved to the second enemy position and destroyed it with another grenade. Despite the fact that the enemy troops were now directing their firepower against him and unleashing a shower of grenades in a frantic attempt to stop his advance, he moved forward against the third hostile emplacement, and skillfully neutralized the remaining enemy position. As his comrades moved forward to join him, Master Sergeant Keeble continued to direct accurate fire against nearby trenches, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. Inspired by his courage, Company G successfully moved forward and seized its important objective. The extraordinary courage, selfless service, and devotion to duty displayed that day by Master Sergeant Keeble was an inspiration to all around him and reflected great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

Regular visitors to these features know that the asterisk preceding a Medal of Honor recipient's name indicates a posthumous award. Woodrow Keeble, however, survived the Korean War, dying of natural causes in 1982 at age 64. The effort to have him recognized as he deserved sadly took far too long.

Keeble's comrades in the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry twice recommended him for the Medal of Honor. Twice, the recommendations were lost. When they tried to submit his name a third time, they were told that it was too late - as if there is a statute of limitations on heroism.

His family and friends persisted in efforts to have him recognized as he so assuredly deserved. In 2007, the four senators from the Dakotas - Kent Conrad, Byron Dorgan, Tim Johnson, and John Thune - introduced legislation removing any regulatory limitation to Keeble receiving the Medal of Honor. The legislation allowing for the award was signed by President George W. Bush on May 24, 2007, not long after what would have been Woodrow Keeble's 90th birthday.

Sadly, Keeble's widow Blossom passed away suddenly in 2007 and did not live to accept the award on his behalf. On March 3, 2008 Keeble's stepson Russel Hawkins received Woodrow Keeble's Medal of Honor at the White House from President Bush - almost 57 years delayed.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Master Sergeant Keeble also received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star Medal, and the Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V" for heroism, as well as two Purple Hearts for wounds suffered for his service in both wars. On combat, he is quoted:
During the 13 months (in the) almost continual and sustained combat in which I have ever participated, there were moments, and rare ones I am sure; but they lose none of their terror or horror for which fear laid a relentless and a powerful hold on me, that the pull of cowardice was almost more than I could ward off. 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.
It is never too late to recognize, remember, and honor the unbelievable courage, tenacity, and resolve of the American warrior. Never.

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