Colonel Ralph Puckett Has Died

Congressional leaders recently announced that the late Col. Ralph Puckett, a highly decorated U.S. Army veteran, will be given the honor of lying in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda later this month. Puckett, who passed away at his residence in Columbus, Georgia at the age of 97, had a storied military career that spanned over two decades, including pivotal roles in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

His actions during a crucial Korean War engagement, where he and his unit were vastly outnumbered, led to a Medal of Honor award in 2021, nearly 70 years after the event. During his military career, Puckett earned numerous accolades, such as the Distinguished Service Cross, a pair of Silver Stars, two Bronze Star Medals with a combat “V” for valor, and five Purple Hearts.

Col. Puckett died on April 8, and his tribute in the Capitol is scheduled for April 29. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) praised Puckett’s bravery and commitment in their statement. “Col. Ralph Puckett Jr.’s exceptional bravery mirrors the finest qualities of the 1.7 million Americans who stood up for freedom during the Korean War. His unyielding dedication to our nation and his fellow Rangers sets a formidable example for both military and civilian personnel,” they remarked. They further noted,

“Acknowledging Col. Puckett’s extraordinary heroism and service, along with that of all Korean War veterans, is a privilege, and we are honored to allow his remains to lie in the Capitol Rotunda.”

A Rare Honor

This gesture of lying in honor is a rare tribute bestowed upon private citizens. Historically, this honor has been reserved for prominent figures such as past presidents and justices, with only six private citizens previously receiving this recognition. Notables among them are Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, and civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

In addition to the Capitol honor, Puckett will be remembered at a public memorial service at the National Infantry Museum near his home in Columbus, near the entrance to Fort Moore, Georgia. Puckett was well-known for mentoring young Rangers at the adjacent Army infantry and armor training site well into his 90s. He was a finalist in the discussions to rename the Army installation, previously known as Fort Benning, after a Confederate general, with his name receiving significant consideration.

Col. Puckett’s Medal of Honor was an elevation from the Distinguished Service Cross he initially received for his leadership of the Army’s 8th Ranger Company in a fierce 1950 battle at Hill 205 near Unsan.