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Medal of Honor recipient deserves North Dakota award, his supporters say

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By Dale Wetzel -- Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Admirers of Woodrow Wilson Keeble, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism during the Korean War, are lobbying Gov. John Hoeven to give the Army master sergeant North Dakota's most prestigious award. The governor says he's considering it.

''He most certainly deserves to be remembered as a true hero from North Dakota, and should be in the company of our other most notable leaders and celebrities from North Dakota,'' the West Fargo police chief, Arland Rasmussen, said in a recent letter to Hoeven.

More than 70 people, including state lawmakers, leaders of veterans' groups and the Richland County Commission, have called and sent letters and e-mail messages to Hoeven's office in the last two months asking him to give the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award to Keeble.

Thirty-five people have received the honor since it was established by Gov. William Guy in 1961. It is enshrined in state law, which says the award represents ''the highest recognition by the state of present or former North Dakotans who have been influenced by the state in achieving national recognition in their fields of endeavor, thereby reflecting credit and honor upon this state and its citizens.''

In March, President Bush presented Keeble's family with the Medal of Honor for his valor in Korea during an October 1951 attack on a hill near Sangsan-ni.

With his platoon pinned by fire from three machine-gun nests, Keeble, who was wounded, crawled toward the emplacements and eventually took out all three, destroying two with well-thrown grenades.

Hoeven said he has been ''seriously considering'' giving the award to Keeble since he attended Keeble's Medal of Honor ceremony.

''I got a better understanding of what he accomplished,'' Hoeven said. ''It is a remarkable story.''

Keeble joined the North Dakota Army National Guard's 164th Infantry Regiment in 1942 and fought in the Pacific during World War II. He volunteered to serve again when the Korean War broke out.

A native of Waubay, S.D., Keeble grew up in Wahpeton, where he attended the Wahpeton Indian School. He returned to teach at the school after his service in World War II and Korea, until he was disabled by a series of strokes. He died in 1982, at age 65.

Keeble was a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux tribe, and the first Indian of full Sioux ancestry to receive the Medal of Honor, according to the National Guard Educational Foundation.

Three of the Rough Rider Award's recipients were honored for their military service, most recently Adm. William Owens, of Bismarck, a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gov. Ed Schafer gave the honor to Owens in 1996.

A letter on Keeble's behalf, signed by more than 50 people, says Hoeven would be recognizing all North Dakotans who serve in the military by giving Keeble the award.

''You will send a message to all of North Dakota's brave men and women who have, or are, serving their [country] in the military,'' the letter says. ''That message is that, even if they do not reach the ranks of general or admiral, if they serve with great distinction and courage, their service is worthy of the highest recognition the state of North Dakota can bestow.''

Hoeven said he understood the argument.

''I think, particularly now, with the war on terror ... all of our military is doing such an incredible job, and our Guard has played such a big role,'' Hoeven said. ''He, in many ways, symbolizes the outstanding men and women in uniform.''

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