(CBS/AP) Woodrow Wilson Keeble, a Lakota Sioux, was a gifted athlete, courted by the White Sox. But Uncle Sam won the recruitment battle, CBS News anchor Katie Couric reports.
Keeble became a highly-decorated soldier in World War Two. A buddy said, "The safest place to be was next to Woody."
When the Korean War broke out, he re-enlisted, saying, "Somebody has to teach these kids to fight."
And on an October day in 1951, he taught them the meaning of courage.
With U.S. forces pinned down, he headed up a mountain alone, taking out three enemy positions. Though badly wounded, the man known as "Chief" refused to be evacuated, and fought on - saving the lives of other soldiers.
Keeble once said, "There were times terror was so strong, I could feel idiocy replace reason." But he also said, "I never let fear make a coward of me."
Keeble died in 1982 at the age of 65.
Monday, after years of bureaucratic foul-ups and red tape, Keeble was awarded the military's highest award, posthumously.
President Bush apologized that the country waited decades to recognize Master Sgt. Keeble for his military valor in Korea, giving him the Medal of Honor more than 25 years after he died.
"On behalf of our grateful nation, I deeply regret that this tribute comes decades too late," Mr. Bush said at the White House medal ceremony. "Woody will never hold this medal in his hands or wear it on his uniform. He will never hear a president thank him for his heroism. He will never stand here to see the pride in his friends and loved ones."
But, Mr. Bush said, there are things the nation can still do for Keeble, even all these years later.
"We can tell his story and we can honor his memory and we can follow his lead," the president said before a somber East Room audience that included three rows of Keeble's family members.
Fellow soldiers, family and others have been urging Congress for years to award Keeble the medal. He had received more than 30 citations, including four Purple Hearts.
Pentagon officials had said the legal deadline had passed to award the medal to Keeble unless Congress specifically authorized it. Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, D-N.D.; Tim Johnson, D-S.D.; and John Thune, R-S.D., did just that, introducing legislation to award Keeble the medal. It was signed by Mr. Bush last year.
Keeble, who was born in Waubay, S.D., moved to North Dakota as a child, and is the first Sioux Indian to receive the award.
Mr. Bush saluted Keeble for his military heroism, but also for his conduct in his personal life - pursing a woman he loved, becoming "an everyday hero" in his community and maintaining cheerfulness - despite his own grief and physical suffering.
The wounds he suffered in Korea would "haunt him the rest of his life," and strokes paralyzed his right side and took away his ability to speak.
The four Dakotas' senators say Keeble's men twice recommended him for the Medal of Honor earlier but the paperwork was lost. He instead received the Distinguished Service Cross.
"He felt he was cheated," Mr. Bush said. "Yet Woody never complained. See, he believed America was the greatest nation on earth - even when it made mistakes."
©MMVIII, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.