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Medal of Honor recipient Ralph Puckett, who brought honor to Columbus, has died

Army civilian employees pass around Retired Master Sgt. Leroy Petry’s Medal of Honor while attending a Mental Health Awareness Observance May 17, Heritage Hall, Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois. (DVIDS)

Retired U.S. Army Col. Ralph Puckett Jr., a Medal of Honor recipient who brought honor to Columbus by residing here and continuing to serve the military and community as a volunteer, has died.

Puckett died Monday morning peacefully in his sleep while at home with his wife, National Infantry Museum communications director Janet Daly told the Ledger-Enquirer. He was 97.

The funeral and burial will be private, but the museum will host a public memorial service to pay tribute to Puckett on April 20 at 11 a.m.

According to his Army bio, Puckett was born in Tifton, Georgia. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and received his commission as an infantry officer in 1949.

As the commander of the Eighth Army Ranger Company, Puckett had only five-and-a-half weeks to train his unit before being sent into combat during the Korean War.

On Nov. 25, 1950, while attached to Task Force Dolvin and leading the advance of the 25th Infantry Division, Puckett and his Rangers attacked and secured Hill 205 near Unsan, Korea.

They were outnumbered 10-to-1, but Puckett and his Rangers defeated five successive Chinese counterattacks over four hours that night and into the early morning of Nov. 26.

On the sixth assault, without artillery fire available, Puckett’s unit was overrun in hand-to-hand combat. Suffering multiple wounds, Puckett couldn’t move. His fellow Rangers ignored orders to abandon him, fought their way to his side and safely evacuated him. Puckett was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Puckett refused a medical discharge and continued to serve on active duty assignments, including the U.S. Army Ranger School and West Point.

“He feared no man, he feared no situation, and he feared no enemy,” retired U.S. Army Gen. Jay Hendrix said in Puckett’s bio. “Clearly a unique, courageous soldier in combat and even more importantly, in my opinion, Col. Puckett was an ultimate infantry leader.”

After retiring from active duty in 1971, Puckett worked as the national programs coordinator for Outward Bound and established Discovery Inc., a leadership and teamwork development program focused on personal growth through safe adventure.

In 1992, Puckett was the inaugural inductee into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame. From 1996-2006, he served as the first honorary colonel of the 75th Ranger Regiment.

Puckett was appointed as ambassador of goodwill by the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. In 2004, he was selected as a distinguished graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. In 2007, he received the Infantry’s Doughboy Award.

In 2021, President Joe Biden awarded Puckett the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration for “conspicuous gallantry” during the Korean War. The citation from the White House includes more details about Puckett’s heroism that night 74 years ago:

“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.

“… 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.”

In retirement, Puckett remained connected to the Army by mentoring Rangers at Fort Benning, now named Fort Moore, and speaking at various events. He also had his lessons published in a 2013 book he authored, “Words for Warriors: A Professional Soldier’s Notebook.”

In a news release Monday afternoon, Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson called Puckett “a national hero.”

“Colonel Puckett lived the Army Values every day of his life,” Henderson said. “He was one of our country’s most decorated veterans but was known for his humility and selfless service. He was a mentor to generations of soldiers passing through Fort Benning/Moore.

“Colonel Puckett earned his Medal of Honor for saving countless members of his company while participating in one of the most ferocious battles of the Korean War. His life brings to mind Isaiah 6:8 — Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here I am, Send me!’ Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with Jeannie and the entire Puckett family.”


(c) 2024 the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

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