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A Lakota “Superman”

A Lakota “Superman”

By Joseph Budd

Native Sun News Today Staff Writer

Woody Keeble was born in Waubay, South Dakota, in 1917 to Isaac and Nancy Keeble, from the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate. The family would move to Wahpeton, North Dakota, where his mother worked at the Wahpeton Indian School, now called Circle of Nations School. His mother passed away while he was young, his father elected to permanently enroll him into the school with his siblings. Woodrow, would excel in sports and did well in baseball, helping the amateur team to 10 straight wins. He was actively being recruited by the Chicago White Sox, when his National Guard unit was called up for World War II.

During World War II, Keeble would serve with the North Dakota 164th Infantry Regiment, making initial landings on Guadalcanal on October 13th, 1942. This was the first Army action against the enemy, in any theater.

The Americal Division, the division the 164th was tied into, would slowly be added, piecemeal to the fighting situations on Guadalcanal, where they gained experience against the Japanese enemy. Being sent in with battle-hardened marines was helpful, cutting down the numbers of wounded they might have normally received, and during this time, Keeble’s abilities started to get recognized. Skilled with a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), he was also handy in throwing grenades, making use of his pitching arm with accuracy. James Fenelon, from the Standing Rock Tribe, who fought alongside Keeble had remarked, “The safest place was right next to Keeble.”

The fighting on these islands was often a brutal, hand-to-hand operation that could last through the night, and the Japanese resorting to the banzai charge. After the end of a major Japanese offensive in October 1942, the Dakotans were given a Navy Presidential Citation for their operations in helping the Marines. Further combat came in places like Bougainville, Leyte, Cebu and Mindanao, and after the war, the division would land in Japan, helping with the occupation of the Yokohama region.

After more than 5 years, Keeble would be discharged from the Army, he would return to Wahpeton, and in 1947 would be married to Nettie Abigail Owen-Robertson.

The next chapter to be written about Keeble would send him overseas again, this time to Korea. As his regiment was activated in January 1951, he would train in Camp Rucker Alabama. The commanding officer made mentioned he’d need to select sergeants for deployment to the front lines. At first he was going to draw straws…then Keeble simply volunteered. When asked why, he said “someone has to teach these kids how to fight.”

His time in Korea, in mid to late 1951 was a time that saw a lot of military actions. Assigned into George Company, 2nd Battalion 19th Infantry Regiment. 24th Infantry Division, he would reach the rank of Master Sargent, leading the first Platoon. In October 13th, the Division was called on to take a series of steep mountains, protecting a major Chinese supply depot, town of Kumsong, part of operation Nomad-Polar, it would be the last major United Nations offensive of the war.

In battle, the next 6 days, Keeble would be wounded four different times, receiving a Purple Heart only once, plus a Silver Star on the 18th of October. His service on the 20th, is where he became legendary.

After six days of around-the-clock fighting, Keeble’s Company was facing a deeply entrenched Chinese position on Hill 675-770, the last major Chinese Stronghold before Kumsong. Keeble had already been hit in the left arm twice. Grenade fragments in his face nearly removed his nose and he had a badly twisted knee. The day before doctors reportedly removed 83 pieces of shrapnel. The Medic, Dale Selby, told Keeble he should stay back because of his wounds, but Keeble refused to let his men go up the mountain without him. Keeble would lead three platoons, in three assaults, against the Chinese. All these charges were repulsed, with the company suffering heavy casualties. Trenches would fill with enemy soldiers and fortified pillboxes were surrounding the hill, armed with machine guns.

After the last third assault, and a softening up with mortar and artillery support, Keeble decided to try something…going in solo. He told a relative, that he was “either going to take them out, or die trying.”

Armed with grenades and his BAR, Keeble crawled to an area 50 yards from the ridgeline, flanked the left pillbox and used grenades and rifle fire to eliminate it. Returning to the point where first platoon held the company’s first line of defense, Keeble worked his way to the opposite side of the ridgeline, and took out the right pillbox with grenades. He would then eliminate the middle pillbox, with a lobbed grenade capped off with rifle fire.

Keeble’s stepson, Russell Hawkins, said one eyewitness told him the enemy directed its entire arsenal at Keeble during the assault: “He said there were so many grenades coming down on Woody, it looked like a flock of blackbirds.” Even under heavy enemy fire, Keeble was able to complete his objective. Only after he killed the machine gunners did Keeble order his men to advance and secure the hill.

That day, Master Sargent Keeble single-handedly destroyed three machine gun bunkers, killed 7 additional soldiers in nearby trenches, under heavy enemy fire. He was recommended twice for a Medal of Honor, both times the paperwork coming up as lost. A third time was offered, only to be told, it was too late. He would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on December 20, 1952, Keeble himself would be removed from front line duty to recover from his wounds, and was discharged on August 26th, 1952.

But this would not be the last time Keeble’s name would come up in the military circles. His family, due to the twice mentioned Medal of Honor, were able to gain help from both North and South Dakota officials, to help Keeble be posthumously awarded a medal of honor. Due to financial difficulty, Keeble was forced to sell off his medals, and a duplicate set was given to his family in 2006. The following year, Congress was able to put into the paperwork, a waiver for limitations on the Medal of Honor, opening the door for Keeble to finally be awarded what he rightly deserved. On March 3rd, 2008, Keeble’s stepson was presented with the medal for Master Sargent Keeble.

 

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