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High honors for Keeble: Medal of Honor recipient to be next Roosevelt Rough Rider Award honoree (May 8, 2008, Herald archives)

Lawrence Welk, Roger Maris, Eric Sevareid ... and Woody Keeble. Master Sgt. Woodrow (Woody) Keeble, who on March 3 was honored posthumously by President Bush with a Medal of Honor for bravery during the Korean War, received another honor on Wedne...

Lawrence Welk, Roger Maris, Eric Sevareid ... and Woody Keeble.

Master Sgt. Woodrow (Woody) Keeble, who on March 3 was honored posthumously by President Bush with a Medal of Honor for bravery during the Korean War, received another honor on Wednesday: the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, the highest honor bestowed by the state of North Dakota.

Gov. John Hoeven announced the award, which means a portrait of Keeble will join those of bandleader Welk, baseball great Maris, newsman Sevareid and 32 other accomplished North Dakotans in the Capitol hall of fame in Bismarck.

Keeble, who died in 1982, won several citations in World War II, and in Korea his unit twice put him up for the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for bravery. Both times, the recommendation was lost or misplaced. A campaign by family members, tribal leaders and old comrades in arms, supported by all four U.S. senators from the Dakotas, led to the March 3 presentation of the medal to Keeble's descendants.

Keeble, a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux tribe, was born on the reservation that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border. He is the first full-blooded Sioux Indian to receive the Medal of Honor.

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A spokesman for Hoeven said he believes that Keeble is the first Native American to receive the Rough Rider Award.

The Rough Rider Award is presented to North Dakotans who achieve national recognition, reflecting credit on the state. Earlier recipients include former UND President Thomas Clifford and professional hockey player Cliff (Fido) Purpur of Grand Forks.

Wasn't for fanfare

"It's an absolutely terrific honor," said Kurt Bluedog, a Twin Cities attorney and Keeble's nephew, who said he received a call from Hoeven on Tuesday with the news.

His uncle "would have been happy and proud" to join North Dakota's other distinguished citizens in the hall, "but he wasn't one for fanfare at all," Bluedog said. "Every-body could identify with him, both Indian people and non-Indian people."

Noting that his Medal of Honor "was long overdue," Hoeven said Keeble "twice answered the call of his nation, fighting in two wars, and serving with dedication, self-lessness and the courage to continually risk his life for his fellow soldiers."

Keeble was raised in Wahpeton, N.D., where his father had sent him to attend an Indian school after his mother died. He worked at the school, now the Circle of Nations School, after graduation.

He also played baseball well enough to earn a tryout with the Chicago White Sox, according to family members.

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Keeble joined the North Dakota National Guard and served with the 164th Infantry Regiment during World War II, earning the first of four Purple Hearts on Guadalcanal. He also received a Bronze Star for actions there.

"The safest place to be was right next to Woody," said James Fenelon, another Guadalcanal veteran, who spoke in 2005 with North Dakota's Prairie Public Television. "His gun just never stopped."

The men in his unit called him Chief.

"I think most Indians in the Army were called 'Chief' then," Bluedog said. "My brother, when he was in the Army, was called 'Chief,' and he resented it. But Woody took it as an honor.

"He was a large, imposing man, but he was quiet, almost shy unless he was with people he knew, and then he was jovial-a good guy to be around. And military service is highly honored among Indian people."

Keeble received a Silver Star, a Distinguished Service Cross and more Purple Hearts during the Korean War.

The Medal of Honor was for actions on Oct. 20, 1951, when his unit was attacked by Chinese troops.

All the officers were killed, but Keeble led three charges to relieve a platoon that had been pinned down by enemy fire, according to eyewitness accounts. Then, despite several wounds, he made a fourth charge on his own, killed 16 enemy soldiers and forced a Chinese retreat.

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"The firsthand accounts of his actions that day read like something out of an old Hollywood movie," Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said two years ago during the effort to secure Keeble's medal. "What he did was real."

A formal ceremony is planned this summer to present the Rough Rider Award to members of Keeble's family.

Copyright (c) 2008 Grand Forks Herald

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