Tales of selfless GI almost unbelievable
I received a piece of mail last week that got my attention because it involves North Dakota's most decorated soldier. Cass County Veterans Service Officer Jim Brent, who will celebrate his 10th year in that position on Wednesday, sent along infor...
I received a piece of mail last week that got my attention because it involves North Dakota's most decorated soldier.
Cass County Veterans Service Officer Jim Brent, who will celebrate his 10th year in that position on Wednesday, sent along information about Master Sgt. Woodrow Wilson Keeble, a Lakota Sioux who grew up in Wahpeton, N.D., and distinguished himself while serving his country in World War II and Korea.
This was the first time I'd heard of Keeble. In two wars, he was awarded five Purple Hearts for wounds, two Bronze Stars, one with "V" for valor, a Silver Star (third highest award for heroism), a Combat Infantryman's Badge, and a Distinguished Service Cross (second highest award for heroism).
As a young man, Keeble was a great athlete who was being recruited by the Chicago White Sox as a pitcher when he was called up to serve in World War II.
He served with "I" Company of the North Dakota Army National Guard's famed 164th Infantry Regiment. His unit was with the Americal Division that landed on Guadalcanal in 1942 to help battered U.S. Marines, who had suffered heavy losses, clear the South Pacific island of Japanese.
Keeble was in combat throughout the South Pacific until the war ended. He was an expert with the Browning automatic rifle. One of his fellow soldiers once remarked, "The safest place to be was next to Woody."
Keeble re-enlisted when the Korean War broke out. Asked why, Keeble said, "Somebody has to teach these kids how to fight."
He had a reputation for taking very good care of his men. Sgt. Kosumo Sagami described Keeble as "one of the few actual selfless men" in the war. Stories about Keeble's actions and bravery would be almost unbelievable, but for eyewitness accounts.
Attached to the 19th Infantry Regiment of the 24th Division, Keeble was near Kumsong, North Korea, on Oct. 13, 1951.
The weather was brutally cold and the enemy was entrenched high above on the side of a mountain. U.S. troops, ordered to take the positions, were sitting ducks.
Keeble was with the 1st platoon of "G" Company on Oct. 15 when it joined the fight. He was wounded that day, patched up and returned to action.
He was hit again on Oct. 17, treated, and again returned to action. His bravery on Oct. 18 earned him the Silver Star.
But it was his action on Oct. 20 that went above and beyond the call of duty.
Heading up the mountain alone, Keeble took out three machine-gun emplacements with grenades and two trenches filled with enemy riflemen, according to the official record.
"...Inspired by his courageous example, the friendly troops swept the enemy from the hill and secured the important objective."
When the 2nd platoon reached Keeble, they found he had taken out nine enemy machine gunners and seven enemy riflemen.
"As often seen in movies, but seldom seen on the actual place of combat, Sgt. Keeble refused evacuation (even though he) had fragmentation wounds in his chest, both arms, left thigh, right calf, knee and right thigh," wrote Sagami.
Keeble was returned to duty within the week because casualties had been high and there were no replacement troops available.
Sagami said Keeble's wounds were bleeding through his bandages, he was limping badly, and he was so weak he could hardly raise his weapon.
Master Sgt. Keeble's fellow soldiers twice recommended him for the Medal of Honor for what he did that day, but both times the paperwork was lost.
Keeble did receive the Distinguished Service Cross, but there is a move afoot to award him the Medal of Honor posthumously.
Keeble died in 1982, in part due to complications from his war injuries.
Several key witnesses to Keeble's heroism have agreed to travel to Fargo in February to be interviewed on film. Hopefully, this will bolster efforts to award the Medal of Honor.
If you would like to volunteer your time, financial help or your own memories of Keeble, please contact:
Merry Helm (701) 293-5045 ( email@example.com ) or Linda Heltemes (218) 329-8889 ( firstname.lastname@example.org ).
Readers can reach Terry DeVine at (701) 241-5515 or email@example.com