On May 21, 2021, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., will award the Medal of Honor to Colonel Ralph Puckett, Jr., United States Army, Retired, for conspicuous gallantry during the Korean War. President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea will join this ceremony.
Then-First Lieutenant Ralph Puckett, Jr. distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty, while serving as the Commander, 8th U.S. Army Ranger Company during the period of November 25, and 26, 1950, in Korea. As his unit commenced a daylight attack on Hill 205, the enemy directed mortar, machine gun, and small arms fire against the advancing force. To obtain supporting fire, First Lieutenant 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. Almost immediately, enemy fire threatened the success of the attack by pinning down one platoon. 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.
During the course of the night, the enemy launched a counterattack which lasted four hours. Over the course of the counterattack, the Rangers were inspired and motivated by the extraordinary leadership and courageous example exhibited by First Lieutenant Puckett. As a result, five human wave attacks by a battalion strength enemy element were repulsed. During the first attack, First Lieutenant Puckett was wounded by grenade fragments, but he refused evacuation and continually directed artillery support that decimated attacking enemy formations, repeatedly abandoned positions of relative safety to make his way from foxhole to foxhole to check the company's perimeter, and distributed ammunition amongst the Rangers. When the enemy launched a sixth attack, it became clear to First Lieutenant Puckett that the position was untenable due to the unavailability of supporting artillery fire. During this attack, two enemy mortar rounds landed in his foxhole, inflicting grievous wounds which limited his mobility. Knowing his men were in a precarious situation, First Lieutenant Puckett commanded the Rangers to leave him behind and evacuate the area. 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 harassing fire from the enemy. Ultimately, the Rangers succeeded in retrieving First Lieutenant Puckett and they moved to the bottom of the hill, where First Lieutenant Puckett called for devastating artillery fire on the top of the enemy controlled hill. 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.
Colonel Puckett enlisted in the Army Enlisted Reserve Corps on December 23, 1943 as a Private. He was subsequently discharged on June 22, 1945 to attend the U.S. Military Academy. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on June 3, 1949. Colonel Puckett served in combat from August 26, 1950 to November 26, 1950, as a member of the 8th Army Ranger Company during the Korean War and from July 31, 1967 to July 3, 1968, as a member of the 101st Airborne Division during the Vietnam War. Retiring from active duty in 1971, he became the National Programs Coordinator of Outward Bound, Inc., and subsequently established Discovery, Inc., a leadership and teamwork development program that focused on "Personal Growth through Safe Adventure." In 1992, he was an inaugural inductee into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame and, from 1996 to 2006, he served as the first Honorary Colonel of the 75th Ranger Regiment. Other honors followed to include an appointment as an Ambassador of Goodwill by the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, selection as a 2004 Distinguished Graduate of the United States Military Academy, and a 2007 recipient of the Infantry's Doughboy Award.
Still very active in military affairs and his local community, Puckett lives in Columbus, Ga., with his wife of 68 years, the former Jean Martin. They have two daughters, one of whom is deceased, a son and six grandchildren.
THE MEDAL OF HONOR:
The Medal of Honor is awarded to members of the Armed Forces who distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their own lives above and beyond the call of duty while:
- engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;
- engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
- serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.
The meritorious conduct must involve great personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life. There must be incontestable proof of the performance of the meritorious conduct, and each recommendation for the award must be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit.
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