“For gallantry in action against the enemy, above and beyond the call of duty.” That’s the citation for the Medal of Honor awarded to Ranger Col. Ralph Puckett for his actions in Korea. His citation was approved by U.S. President Harry Truman on May 19, 1951, and the medal was presented on June 3, 1951.
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The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the U.S. Air Force or any other wing, regiment, or group of the U.S. Air Force.Retired Colonel Ralph Paquette was a young lieutenant when he led 51 Rangers and nine Korean soldiers through 800 feet of frozen rice paddies to capture and take a key hill overlooking the Chongchon River in what is now North Korea.
They lost four Rangers and a Korean in the attack, but another battle came.
The next night, Puckett’s Rangers encountered hundreds of Chinese troops who launched a counterattack on the hill. He was wounded three times, so he ordered his men to leave him and retreat – they did not obey.
Puckett had already received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions at the Battle of Hill 205 on the 25th. November 1950. Seventy years later, the award was elevated to the Medal of Honour.
President Joe Biden spoke by phone Friday with Puckett and his wife to congratulate them, said John Locke, a retired Army officer who insisted on the upgrade.
The phone call was first reported by the Washington Post.
The president also told Puckett that the government would consult with him this week on the date of the ceremony, which is expected to be held at the White House, Lock told Army Times.
The Defense Policy Bill 2023 calls for the president to award the Medal of Honor to Puckett and three other military personnel. No presidential decision has yet been announced for the other three candidates: Dwight W. Birdwell, Alvin C. Cash and Earl D. Plumley.
The battle of Hill 205 was part of the counteroffensive that marked China’s entry into the Korean War, destroyed the Eighth Army’s right flank, and caused a massive U.S. withdrawal.
The sheer number of Chinese troops took the Americans by surprise, even those on Hill 205. On the eve of the battle, Puckett received information that 25,000 Chinese troops were in his division’s area.
Well, I knew it was against our doctrine, Puckett recalled for the oral history project. When the U.S. Army conducts an offensive or attack, the doctrine to outnumber the enemy is 2:1 or preferably 3:1. They [the Chinese] were three times more than us, so I knew something was wrong.
Colonel Ralph Puckett, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, receives the Medal of Honor for his actions in Korea. The president called him on the 30th. April to congratulate him. (Wikipedia Commons)
After the initial capture of Hill 205, which was dotted with bunkers, the Rangers set up a perimeter and prepared their rocket launchers and machine guns for the night. The nearest US Army ground unit was more than a mile away.
We’ve always been on our own, and tonight should be no different, Puckett said.
The waves of Chinese attacks continued throughout the night. The attack began with whistling from the Chinese lines, followed by mortar fire, automatic weapons and hand grenades. Four Chinese attacks were repulsed by short-range artillery strikes from Puckett.
At about 02:00-02:30, we heard the Chinese blowing their whistles, blowing their horns, the same thing over and over again, Puckett said. He called in the artillery again, but the guns were busy supporting another unit and could not help.
We’re under pressure, we’re collapsing, we’re overwhelmed, I just ordered my unit to retreat, Puckett recalled, speaking to the gunners over the radio.
During the attack, Puckett repeatedly left his foxhole to observe Chinese troop movements and fire artillery, exposing himself to small arms and mortar fire, according to his list of orders.
As the Chinese troops rallied for the final assault, Puckett was so badly wounded that he was unable to move, according to the citation.
I had already been hit three times and was lying in a hole, unable to do anything, Puckett said. I saw three Chinese about 15 yards away from me, bayoneting or shooting at some of my wounded Rangers.
Two corporals first class, Billy G. Walls and David L. Pollock, went up the hill, shot three Chinese soldiers, and carried Puckett down the steep slope, through the undergrowth, and back into the American ranks.
A 1949 graduate of West Point, Puckett retired in 1971 after serving in the Vietnam War. During his service, Puckett, then a lieutenant colonel, received a second Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars and three Legions of Merit.
He was inducted into the Rangers Hall of Fame in 1992.
Puckett was born in Tifton, Georgia, and now lives near Fort Benning, where he has close ties to the 75th Ranger Regiment. In April, he visited the Rangers competing in the annual Army Ranger of the Year contest and gave words of encouragement.
Originally published on Military Times, our sister publication.Thursday night, the family and friends of 94-year-old Colonel Ralph Puckett in Winchester, Virginia, were overcome with emotion as he received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama. (And the rest of the world, too, should be deeply moved by this extraordinary story of one individual’s steadfast patriotism and sacrifice.). Read more about ralph puckett family and let us know what you think.
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