Ralph Puckett, Jr, 94, was hosted at the White House where he received the Medal of Honor — the US government’s highest and most prestigious military decoration.
“Why all the fuss?” was Puckett’s first response. “Can’t they just mail it to me?”
President Joe Biden answered: “Rather than mail it to you, I would’ve walked it to you.”
Jeannie Puckett, his wife, was in attendance too, as President Biden detailed how the couple met.
The two were married two years after the battle in November 1950, for which he was honored this week with the following citation:
“For acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as the commander 8th U.S. Army Ranger Company.”
Seventy years ago, on Hill 205 or what is now called North Korea, 51 of Puckett’s Rangers and 9 Korean enlisted soldiers set out in a daylight attack to take Hill 205 which was located 60 miles from the border of China.
At the time, first lieutenant Ralph Puckett mounted the closest tank, exposing himself to the lethal enemy fire. Leaping from the tank, he shouted words of encouragement to his rangers and began to them in their offense.
To attack, Puckett and his men had to cross about half a mile of frozen rice paddies under burning fire.
“Almost immediately, the enemy fire threatened the success of the attack by pinning down one platoon,” the citation stated.
“Leaving the safety of his position, 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″.
When the Rangers finally reached the top of the Hill 205, it was abandoned, but Puckett knew the battle wasn’t over.
“During the night, the enemy launched a counterattack that lasted four hours,” the citation continued. “Over the course of the counterattack, the Rangers were inspired and motivated by the extraordinary leadership and courageous example exhibited by First Lieutenant Puckett.”
Despite the fact that Puckett’s Rangers were outnumbered, five attacks by a battalion-strength enemy were revolted.
During the first wave of the assaults, First Lieutenant Puckett was deeply wounded by grenade fragments, but he refused to evacuate and continued the artillery support. Several hours later, four more waves of attacks came.
“He repeatedly abandoned positions of relative safety to make his way from foxhole to foxhole, to check the company’s perimeter and to distribute ammunition amongst the Rangers,” the citation says.
When the enemy launched the sixth offense, two mortar rounds landed in his foxhole, wounding him in both his feet, his left arm, shoulder and his backside.
“Knowing his men were in a precarious situation, First Lieutenant Puckett commanded the Rangers to leave him behind and evacuate the area,” the citation continued. “Feeling a sense of duty to aid him, the Rangers refused the order and staged an effort to retrieve him from the foxhole while still under fire from the enemy.”
Eventually, the Rangers succeeded in rescuing First Lieutenant Puckett and they moved to the bottom of the hill, where he called for destructive artillery fire on the top of the enemy-controlled hill.
Puckett’s remarkable heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty will reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
“Korea is sometimes called the “Forgotten War.” But those men who were there under Lieutenant Puckett’s command, they’ll never forget his bravery,” President Biden said in his remarks. “They never forget that he was right by their side throughout every minute of it.”
“And the people of the Republic of Korea haven’t forgotten, as evidenced by the fact that the President of Korea is here for this ceremony,” Biden continued. “I doubt this has ever happened before.”
“I learned that I’m the first foreign leader to ever attend a ceremony of such kind,” President Moon said. “As President of the Republic of Korea, it is a great honor and pleasure.”
“Colonel Puckett is a true hero of the Korean War… Without the sacrifice of veterans, including Colonel Puckett and the Eighth Army Ranger Company, freedom, and democracy we enjoy today couldn’t have blossomed in Korea.”
Puckett’s military service did not end in the Korean War as he also served in the Vietnam War, where he earned a second Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, and two Bronze Stars. And five Purple Hearts for injuries suffered in combat.