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Most Decorated Soldier


As an infantryman, Woodrow Wilson Keeble of Wahpeton became the state’s most decorated soldier. He fought with the ND 164th in WWII and as a marksman and expert with a Browning Automatic Rifle, he had one of the military’s most dangerous jobs – yet he survived more than five years of ground fighting in that war.

When the Korean War erupted, Keeble reenlisted, telling a friend, “Someone has to teach those kids how to fight.” Attached to the 19th Infantry Regiment of the 24th Division, he was near Kumsong, North Korea, when Operation Nomad began on Oct. 13th, 1951. The army’s objectives were a series of very steep, barren mountains covered with loose stone and rubble. The weather was brutally cold, and with the enemy entrenched high above, soldiers fighting their way up these ridges were sitting ducks.

Keeble was with the 1st platoon of George Company when it joined the fray on the 15th. According to records, he was wounded that day, treated and returned to action. On the 17th, he was hit again, treated and again returned to action. On the 18th, his actions earned him a Silver Star. But, his actions on this date – October 20th – went far beyond the call of duty.

Keeble and his men were in a support position behind the 2nd platoon, which got pinned down by three nests of machine guns and two trenches of riflemen. Keeble left his own platoon and crawled to the one that was pinned down – and minutes later, they saw him heading up the mountain on his own. The official record reads: “...hugging the ground, he crawled forward alone until he was in close proximity to one of the hostile machine-gun emplacements. Ignoring the vicious stream of fire, which the enemy crew trained on him, he activated a grenade and, throwing it with great accuracy, successfully destroyed 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 hostile troops were now directing their entire firepower against him, and unleashing a shower of grenades in a fanatic attempt to stop his advance, he moved forward against the third hostile emplacement.

Stunned by an enemy concussion grenade, he hesitated only long enough to regain his senses, then renewed his assault and skillfully neutralized the remaining enemy position with exceptionally accurate rifle fire. As his comrades moved forward to join him, he continued to direct deadly accurate fire against nearby enemy trenches, inflicting extremely heavy casualties on the foe. Inspired by his courageous example, the friendly troops swept the enemy from the hill and secured the important objective...”

When the 2nd platoon reached the top, they found Keeble had taken out 9 enemy machine-gunners and 7 riflemen. 1st Sgt Joe Sagami wrote, “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.”

Overall casualties were extremely high during this operation, and with no replacements available, the army returned Keeble to duty within the week. Sagami said his wounds were bleeding through his bandages, he was badly limping, and he was so weak he could hardly raise his weapon.

Master Sergeant 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. Although a Distinguished Service Cross was eventually awarded to Keeble, his family is seeking to have it overturned in favor of the Medal of Honor he so richly deserved. Keeble died in 1982, in part due to complications from his war injuries.


Sagami, Kosumo (Joe). Notarized letter to William Mjogdalen, VA Center, Fargo, ND. 2 Oct, 1954.

“Woodrow W. Keeble: Citation for Distinguished Service Cross.” Hall of Heroes. <CombatLeadership.com>

“Distinguished Service Cross Recipients.” Legion of Valor. <http://www.legionofvalor.com/citation_print.php?uid=1117858297>

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm