Retired Army Col. Ralph Puckett waited more than 70 years to receive the country’s highest honor for his valor in battle. And when he heard he would receive the Medal of Honor, he wondered why the White House would bother to give it to him.
“I understand your first response to our organization of this event was to ask ‘why all this fuss… can’t they just send it to me? “”, joked President Joe Biden at the presentation ceremony on Friday. “I am incredibly proud to give Colonel Ralph Puckett’s acts of bravery the full recognition they have always deserved.”
On November 25, 1950, then 1st Lt. Ralph Puckett Jr. exposed himself to enemy machine guns, effectively using himself as bait to allow his Army Rangers to spot their locations. That evening, he led his company of 51 men to defend against hundreds of Chinese soldiers who attacked their position for hours.
Puckett repeatedly left the safety of his foxhole to spot the enemy and direct artillery fire, sometimes calling for “close-range danger” attacks, meaning he ordered them to drop bombs near his own. position to keep the Chinese assault at bay.
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In doing so, he was repeatedly injured and was ultimately unable to move. Fearing that their position was about to be overrun, Puckett ordered his men to fall back and leave him behind so as not to slow them down. Two soldiers, Billy G. Walls and David L. Pollock, ignored his order and transported him to safety.
“It’s an honor that was long overdue,” Biden said. “Over 70 years late.”
Puckett’s Medal of Honor ceremony was unique in that it was the first attended by a foreign world leader, according to the White House. Biden hosted South Korean President Moon Jae-in to highlight the alliance between the two nations and discuss a wide variety of topics and to hold a joint press conference.
“Colonel Puckett is a true hero of the Korean War,” Moon said during the ceremony. “Without the sacrifice of veterans, including Colonel Puckett, [the] the freedom and democracy we enjoy today could not have flourished in Korea. “
Puckett was pushed in a wheelchair to a stage in the East Room of the White House to receive the medal. Two young army officers first stood beside him, supporting him as he stood for Biden’s remarks. But when the quote was read, he got up on his own. A soldier quickly retrieved a walker to hang on to it, but pushed it away. Puckett wore the new Army Green Service Uniform, emblazoned with his other awards, including five Purple Hearts.
Puckett, 94, was originally awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions as the head of the 8th Army Ranger Company on Hill 205, just 60 miles from the Chinese border. He got a call from Biden last month informing him that his DSC would be upgraded to Medal of Honor.
“It was quite a shock,” Puckett said on a call with reporters Thursday. “I was surprised that I got a call from the president. I never thought he would call to talk to me. I was surprised how humble and ordinary he looked.”
Puckett noted the enormous gravity of winning the Medal of Honor. Some previous recipients have called the price a burden or felt unworthy of the prestige.
“I am certainly honored,” he added. “The people who won this medal were the Rangers who did more than I asked for. I think it’s important for them. They are the ones who did the work; they fought and suffered.
Puckett had a 22-year career that included a Second Distinguished Service Cross and two Silver Stars in Vietnam. He won five Purple Hearts in both wars, as well as two Bronze Stars with the “V” device for bravery. He retired as a colonel in 1971. He is an “honorary colonel” for the 75th Ranger Regiment and is a frequent speaker for the military. He meets regularly with the Rangers at Fort Benning, Georgia.
– Steve Beynon can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.
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