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Sioux Warrior Receives Posthumous Medal of Honor

Master Sergeant Woodrow Wilson Keeble of North Dakota saved the lives of dozens of other U.S. soldiers in October 1951 when he mounted a one-man assault on three enemy machine gun nests during a battle in the rugged hills near Sangsan-ni, Korea. This spring, more than 50 years after his heroic actions and 26 years after his death, Keeble became the first full-blooded Sioux Indian to receive the Medal of Honor. The honor was long overdue. His original nominating paperwork was lost, resubmitted, then lost again. “Some blamed the bureaucracy for a shameful blunder. Others suspected racism,” President George Bush said when he delivered the medal to Keeble’s family in a White House ceremony. “Whatever the reason, the first Sioux to ever receive the Medal of Honor died without knowing it was his. A terrible injustice was done to a good man, to his family, and to history. And today we’re going to try to set things right.”

Himalayan Search Unearths World War II MIAs

Arizona businessmen Clayton Kuhles and Gary Zaetz have embarked on an ambitious project to locate American planes that crashed in the Himalayan Mountains during World War II and get the U.S. government to bring home the remains of the men who went missing in action. More than 400 planes were lost over the “Hump,” the 530-mile flight path U.S. crews followed to airlift supplies to the Chinese military, which was locked in a critical battle with Japan. Kuhles happened upon one World War II wreck site during a 2002 mountain-climbing expedition in Burma and eventually identified eight more downed planes. Zaetz subsequently happened upon photos of his uncle 1st Lt. Irwin Zaetz’s wrecked plane while browsing Kuhles’ Web site and set out to locate descendants of other pilots who disappeared on the route. Kuhles has leads on 14 additional wrecks and believes he can locate most of the 1,400 lost airmen—a number nearly equal to the 1,700 remaining MIAs in Vietnam.

Virginia Memorializes School Desegregation Pioneers

The state of Virginia recently unveiled a $2.6 million memorial on Capitol Square in Richmond commemorating a symbolic turning point in the battle for desegregation. The four-sided statue honors students who participated in a 1951 walkout at Farmville, Va.’s overcrowded Robert R. Moton High School, where tar-paper-shacks served as auxiliary classrooms for the all-black student body.

“Some of the boys in the vocational program visited the shop at the white school and came back telling us how nice their whole school was,” Barbara Johns, the Moton junior who led the two-week walkout later recalled. “I remember thinking how unfair it was. I thought about it a lot in bed that night, and I was still thinking about it the next day.”

A lawsuit filed against the Prince Edward County Board of Education was one of five similar cases consolidated into the landmark 1954 desegregation decision Brown v. Board of Education. Johns, the niece of civil rights activist Vernon Johns, eventually raised five children and worked as a librarian until her death in 1991.

No Birthday Cake for Jefferson Davis

With all the attention on Abraham Lincoln’s upcoming 200th birthday, many seem to want to forget that the Civil War’s other president, Jefferson Davis, reaches the same milestone this summer. Davis was born June 3, 1808, eight months earlier than Lincoln and less than 100 miles away in Fairview, Ky. Efforts by Davis enthusiasts to commemorate the anniversary (jeffersondavis have gone largely unheeded.

“The response to date has been timid,” said Bertram Hayes-Davis, the Confederate president’s great-great-grandson and head of the Davis Family Association. “Nobody has said ‘no.’ Many haven’t said ‘yes.’” That includes the U.S. Defense Department, which was asked to take part in the festivities because Davis served as secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce. Davis’ unrelenting opposition to reconciliation after the Civil War may explain why he now commands so little respect. Pulitzer Prize– winning historian James McPherson observed that Davis was an “unreconstructed rebel who…basically said, ‘We were right. We lost this war, not because we were wrong, but because the enemy was more powerful and more ruthless.’ ”

Court Takes On Gun Control Case

This summer the U.S. Supreme Court will hand down its first major ruling on a Second Amendment case since 1939. Then, the court ruled that the right to bear arms did not include sawed-off shotguns— banned under federal law in 1934—because they had no “reasonable relationship to the preservation…of a well-regulated militia.” The current case, District of Columbia v. Heller, challenges the city’s total ban on the private possession of handguns. Prohibition-era violence influenced the 1939 opinion. Will changing technology play a similar role in 2008?

Prohibition Provides Stimulus Model

As America celebrates the 75th anniversary of the end of Prohibition this year, the festivities could inspire economists struggling with the current downturn. Within 48 hours of the legalization of 3.2 percent beer in 1933, breweries and related businesses spent $25 million to gear up production. “Near beer” brought in $7.5 million in taxes on the first day it was sold to the public.


Originally published in the August 2008 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here