U.S. Army Colonel Ralph Puckett, Jr., a legend in the Ranger Regiment will be awarded the Medal of Honor at the White House on Friday for his own “conspicuous gallantry” during the Korean War. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who had planned an official state visit to President Biden, will also attend the ceremony.
Puckett, now 94, has served his country and the Regiment for more than 70 years.
He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy when he was 23 and was assigned to an Infantry company in Japan. Yet, Puckett volunteered for the Ranger Company. However, he was told that there were no more lieutenant positions in the 8th Army Ranger Company. He was nonplussed. Puckett said that he would “take a squad leader’s or rifleman’s job,” taking a rank bust several grades lower than a lieutenant’s. Colonel McGee, who was in charge of forming the Ranger company, was so impressed by Puckett’s attitude that he gave him the company commander’s position, a position normally reserved for captains. The Ranger company deployed to Korea on October 10, 1950.
The Battle for Hill 205
It was late November 1950. Then-1st Lt. Puckett and his 51 men of the 8th Ranger company were attacking Hill 205 in a daring daylight attack when they were faced with intensive small arms, machine gun, and mortar fire. Pitted against them was a whole Chine battalion.
“To obtain supporting fire, 1LT Puckett mounted the closest tank, exposing himself to the deadly enemy fire. Leaping from the tank, he shouted words of encouragement to his men and began to lead the Rangers in the attack,” a White House statement read.
“Leaving the safety of his position and with full knowledge of the danger, First Lieutenant Puckett intentionally ran across an open area three times to draw enemy fire, thereby allowing the Rangers to locate and destroy the enemy positions and to seize Hill 205.”
Later that night, Puckett displayed amazing “extraordinary leadership and courageous example,” during a four-hour firefight. “As a result, five human wave attacks by a battalion strength enemy element were repulsed,” the statement added.
He was wounded first by grenade fragments and later more seriously by enemy mortar rounds, severely limiting his mobility. However, he refused to be pulled away to safety and continued to direct artillery fire, calling in strikes “danger close” on the enemy who vastly outnumbered his own forces.
Puckett realized that after the sixth human wave assault, the Rangers would not be able to hold their position. He urged his fellow Rangers to leave him behind and he’d cover the withdrawal with further calls for artillery. But they refused, remembering that part of the Ranger creed states, “I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy.”
Two of Puckett’s Rangers, PFCs David L. Pollock, and Billy G. Walls, initially carried him and subsequently dragged him down the hill where, despite his wounds, Puckett continued to call for devastating artillery strikes on the enemy who were rushing the hill. His wounds were so severe that Puckett would require a year of hospitalization to recover and get back to active duty.
“First Lieutenant Puckett’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service,” the White House said in its statement.
For his actions, he was initially awarded a Distinguished Service Cross that is now being upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
Ralph Puckett’s Dedication Continues
After the war in Korea, Puckett served at the Ranger Department and was the Commander of the Mountain Ranger Phase of Ranger School. He later transferred to Colombia and helped establish the Colombian Lancero School.
Later, he commanded Special Forces “B” and “C” teams in Germany and served in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne, commanding the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry where he was awarded a second Distinguished Cross for his defense of Chu Lai.
After retiring in 1971, he became the coordinator of the national program of Outward Bound, Inc. and later founded Discovery Inc. Puckett was part of the initial class in the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame in 1992. He served as the Honorary Colonel for the 75th Ranger Regiment from 1996 to 2006 for which he was awarded the Distinguished Civilian Service Award.
He continues to be active at graduations and other functions at Ft. Benning speaking to the class of the Best Ranger Competition recently. Colonel Puckett is also an Honorary Instructor at the Infantry School.
He was the 1998 Ranger of the Year for the Ranger Infantry Companies of the Korean War as well as a Distinguished Graduate of the United States Military Academy in 2004, and selection as the Infantry’s Doughboy Award recipient in 2007.
Colonel Ralph Puckett has also written the book Words for Warriors: A Professional Soldier’s Notebook and numerous media articles. If you are interested you can purchase the colonel’s book here.