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First Sioux receives Medal of Honor

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  • Master Sgt. Woodrow Keeble is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor
  • The Sioux Indian's military service was "an example for the ages," Bush says
  • Keeble served in World War II and the Korean War
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Nearly 26 years after his death, Army Master Sgt. Woodrow "Woody" Keeble was awarded the Medal of Honor on Monday for his efforts during the Korean War.

Master Sgt. Woodrow Keeble was the recipient of two Purple Hearts and many other medals.

Keeble is the first full-blooded Sioux Indian to receive the honor and the 10th person to receive the medal from President Bush.

Keeble's stepson, Russell Hawkins, accepted the medal at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.

"The Sioux have a saying: The life of a man is a circle. Well, today, we complete Woody's circle from an example to his men to an example for the ages," Bush said. "And if we honor his life and take lessons from his good and noble service, then Master Sgt. Woody Keeble will serve his country once again." Video Watch Bush recount Keeble's heroism »

Bush said the ceremony honoring the decorated war veteran was a sad one and one that should have happened decades before. A series of paperwork errors and missed deadlines caused a roadblock in the nominating process.

After a long effort by Keeble's family, fellow soldiers, tribal members and four U.S. senators, Congress approved the nomination in 2002.

"I'm pleased that this good and honorable man is finally getting the recognition he deserves," Bush said. "But on behalf of our grateful nation, I deeply regret that this tribute comes decades too late."

Bush said Monday's ceremony was an effort to set things right.

"We can tell his story, we can honor his memory, and we can follow his lead by showing all those who followed him on the battlefield the same love and generosity and spirit that Woody showed his country every day."

A veteran of World War II and the Korean War, Keeble was born May 16, 1917, in Waubay, South Dakota, on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Reservation, which stretched into North Dakota.

Keeble was being recruited by the Chicago White Sox when he was called to duty in World War II.

The U.S. Army said his "gallant actions" serving on the battlefields in the two wars resulted in top honors, including two Purple Hearts, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, a Combat Infantryman Badge and the Distinguished Service Cross.

In 1942, Keeble joined the North Dakota National Guard, and in October of that year, he "found himself embroiled in some of the fiercest hand-to-hand combat of World War II on Guadalcanal," according to the U.S. Army.

"Guadalcanal seemed to be on his mind a lot," Hawkins told the Army News Service. "His fellow soldiers said he had to fight a lot of hand-to-hand fights with the Japanese, so he saw their faces. Every now and then, he would get a faraway look in his eyes, and I knew he was thinking about those men and the things he had to do."

Bush spoke of Keeble's service in Korea.

"One soldier remembered the time when he walked through a minefield, leaving tracks for his men to follow. Another recalled the time when he was shot twice in the arm and kept fighting without seeming to notice," Bush said.

According to the Army, Keeble once said of his time in the military that there "were terrible moments that encompassed a lifetime, an endlessness, when terror was so strong in me, that I could feel idiocy replace reason. ... I have never left my position, nor have I shirked hazardous duty. Fear did not make a coward out of me."

His return to North Dakota was marked by a string of devastating events, including the death of his first wife and ongoing recovery from battle wounds.

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Later, a series of strokes paralyzed him and took away his ability to speak. He died in 1982, according to the Army.

In addition to Hawkins, Keeble is survived by a stepdaughter, Kathryn Akipa. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Ed Hornick contributed to this report.

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