Woodrow W. Keeble 1917-1982 (The Gentle Giant)

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: 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.


That is how the Medal of Honor Citation read for Woodrow W. Keeble that was presented to his family 26 years after MSG Keeble’s death. During his service during WWII and the Korean War MSG Keeble was awarded two Silver Stars, four purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars (with “V” Device).

There is much that can be written about this man—his honor, his integrity and his selfless service. I think it can all be summed up by three things he said after returning home:

“Before I experienced the horror of that attack, I was quick to call coward or yellow anyone who showed fear under any circumstances. Nevermore. I don’t know these things, but they speak truth to one. I am not a psychologist, nor a statistician, and less of a philosopher; but the depth of emotion, the dreads of fear, the referees of horrors, and the concentration of self that led me to make this observation, the fear impulse, or perhaps, better said, the (impulses caused) by fear, are stronger, more demanding than either that of love or hunger…”

“Fear in my opinion is a state of drunkenness. And when men are in that state when the fear impulse takes a hold…he loses all reason, sense of values, and is not liable, or at least should not be held accountable for acts perpetrated when thus possessed.”

The aftermath of combat operations on Guadalcanal


“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.”

Keeble returned to North Dakota after the Korean War and worked at the Wahpeton Indian School (later named Circle of Nations Wahpeton Indian School) located in Wahpeton, ND. Soon after, he was afflicted with tuberculosis, which required that he undergo long-term treatment in 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.

Keeble fell on hard times and is said to have pawned his service medals. Nevertheless, and despite his disabilities, Keeble persevered. Those that knew him and members of his family proclaim he never lost the level of integrity, honor and selfless service that sustained him during vicious combat operations in WWII and Korea.

The Medal of Honor, well deserved on the day of the incident, was not given until 26 years after his death. Since then there have been many other honors bestowed on MSG Keeble—but not near enough. What can we, as individuals, do to honor his life—and for that matter—the lives of every other honorable person we know? The answer is easy. Imitate them. Live your life firmly grounded in honor, integrity, compassion and wisdom.

Wkeeble Korean War

Woodrow W. Keeble died January 28th, 1982 and is buried in Sisseton, South Dakota. This short blog is but a small portion outlining the life led by MSG Keeble. His accomplishments and his demons are many.


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