On May 21, 2021, 94-year-old retired U.S. Army Col. Ralph Puckett, Jr. ’43 was awarded the Medal of Honor for acts of “conspicuous gallantry” during the Korean War. The medal was presented by U.S. President Joe Biden with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in attendance, in the country conducting diplomatic talks.
The Medal of Honor is the United States government's highest and most prestigious military decoration that may be awarded to recognize American soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, Space Force guardians, and coast guardsmen who have distinguished themselves by acts of valor.
According to the White House citation, Puckett "distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty. His extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service."
"Col. Puckett is a true hero of the Korean War. With extraordinary valor and leadership, he completed missions until the very end, defending Hill 205 and fighting many more battles requiring equal valiance," Moon said. "Without the sacrifice of veterans including Col. Puckett and the Eighth Army Rangers Company, the freedom and democracy we enjoy today couldn't have blossomed in Korea."
Puckett attended Baylor for only his senior year and was a member of the Victory Corps and the baseball and boxing teams. He submitted a short quote for the 1943 yearbook, saying, “Yea, I am a boxer, one fight more.” His attitude of being willing to fight one more time led to the heroics that earned Puckett a plethora of military awards – the Army Commendation Medal, Air Medal, Purple Heart (5), Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, and the Silver Star.
He was originally awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and, after a lengthy process, the Medal of Honor for his acts of bravery on Nov. 25, 1950 on Hill 205 in Korea. Then-1st Lt. Puckett and his platoon of some 50 troops had captured the strategic hill but faced a counterattack by the much larger forces of the enemy. Puckett ran into the open to draw fire several times allowing his team to identify and fire on the enemy’s position. As the fighting lasted into the night, Puckett was injured so badly that he was unable to move but continued to call for artillery support. When the artillery support was delayed, the enemy advanced. Puckett called on his men to leave him behind and abandon the position. Two of his Rangers ignored the order and carried Puckett out of danger from friendly fire where he was able to call in an artillery strike of high explosives on the enemy position. He was later medically evacuated.
Puckett grew up in Tifton, Ga. and enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving in WWII, after graduating from Baylor. He was discharged in 1945 to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he captained the boxing team.
After Korea, Puckett commanded the 502nd Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam as a Lt. Col. and was awarded a second Distinguished Service Cross for heroic leadership during a battle in 1967.
After 22 years of active duty, Col. Puckett retired in 1971 but continued to be active in military affairs. He was an inaugural inductee into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame in 1992 and served as Honorary Colonel for the 75th Ranger Regiment from 1996 to 2006, for which he awarded the Distinguished Civilian Service Award. He lives in Columbus, Ga. where he often speaks at graduations and functions at nearby Fort Benning. He and his wife, Jean, have two daughters and six grandchildren.