Colonel Ralph Puckett, 1926-2024

A legendary soldier is gone at 97.

Washington Post, “Ralph Puckett dies at 97; Army Ranger belatedly received Medal of Honor

Retired Col. Ralph Puckett Jr., an Army Ranger who received the Medal of Honor in 2021, 71 years after the valiant combat actions in the Korean War for which he was decorated, and who became one of the most honored soldiers in U.S. military history, died April 8 at his home in Columbus, Ga. He was 97.

The cause was complications from Parkinson’s disease, said his wife, Jean Puckett.

At age 94, Col. Puckett traveled to the White House to receive the Medal of Honor, leaving behind both his wheelchair and walker to stand straight as President Biden draped the military’s top award for valor around his neck. The decoration for Col. Puckett was years in the making, championed by close and influential friends in the military community who wanted to upgrade his Distinguished Service Cross. He had been presented with the DSC, the second-highest award for valor, soon after a fierce battle on a Korean hilltop.

Starting on Nov. 25, 1950, then-1st Lt. Puckett and fellow soldiers with the Eighth Army Ranger Company assaulted and took command of Hill 205, frozen high ground about 60 miles from the Chinese border. It was near the outset of what became known as the Battle of Chongchon River, in which senior U.S. commanders were caught by surprise by China’s full-scale entry into the Korean War.

To succeed in his objective, he was credited with deliberately braving enemy machine-gun fire to help his men locate and kill a Chinese sniper.

The Chinese launched swarming wave attacks of small-arms and mortar fire for hours in bitterly cold temperatures. The American soldiers were outnumbered 10 to 1, according to Army accounts, but Lt. Puckett, despite being wounded by a hand grenade, helped his men defeat five successive Chinese counterattacks that stretched into the early morning of Nov. 26.

On the sixth Chinese counterattack, the Rangers were overrun after Lt. Puckett was told that further artillery fire was unavailable to support them. He and his men engaged in hand-to-hand combat, and Lt. Puckett suffered additional wounds from mortars that left him unable to move. He ordered his soldiers to abandon him to enable them to have a better chance of withdrawing alive.

Two privates first class, Billy G. Walls and David L. Pollock, carried him to safety. They later received the Silver Star for their valor in saving him.

In an oral history project, Lt. Puckett recalled seeing Chinese soldiers attacking U.S. service members with bayonets 15 yards away from him when Walls and Pollock arrived by his side. He said that he was glad the men disobeyed his order to leave him.

“I wouldn’t be talking to you today,” Lt. Puckett said. “They saved my neck.”

New York Times, “Col. Ralph Puckett Jr., Belated Medal of Honor Winner, Dies at 97

Col. Ralph Puckett Jr., who was belatedly awarded the Medal of Honor in May 2021 for his exploits seven decades earlier, commanding vastly outnumbered Army Rangers in a battle with Communist Chinese troops during the Korean War, died on Monday at his home in Columbus, Ga. One of the most highly decorated servicemen in the history of the Army, he was 97.


In addition to the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest decoration for valor, Colonel Puckett held a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during the Vietnam War, along with two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars and five Purple Hearts in his 22 years of military service.

In February 1992, he was inducted into the newly established Ranger Hall of Fame. Located at Fort Moore, Ga. (formerly Fort Benning), it honors members of a unit that continues to carry out some of the Army’s most dangerous missions.

In April 2023, President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea awarded his country’s highest decoration for bravery, the Taegeuk Order of Military Merit, to Colonel Puckett and two other veterans of the Korean War (one honored posthumously) on a state visit to Washington marking the 70th anniversary of the U.S.-South Korea bilateral alliance.


Colonel Puckett was hospitalized for 11 months but turned down a medical discharge and returned to combat in Vietnam.

In August 1967, serving as a battalion commander in the 101st Airborne Division, he earned the Distinguished Service Cross for having “exposed himself to withering fire” in rallying his undermanned unit to vanquish Viet Cong forces in a firefight near Duc Pho, South Vietnam.

When a man dies at 97, decades after retiring from his chosen profession, it’s seldom tragic. In Puckett’s case, he was still an active contributor right up until the end.

I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting the man but a friend, a recently-retired Army infantry command sergeant major, met him a few times over the years, first as a young sergeant and shortly after his retirement. He recounts that Puckett would recognize him and call him by name despite his being quite junior and undergoing rather substantial change in appearance over time. Puckett was, until quite recently, a routine participants in activities at the Ranger School, marching alongside trainees younger than his grandchildren.

As I noted when he was awarded the Medal of Honor, he was also incredibly forward-thinking. For example, he was vocally supportive of the first women to undertake Ranger training.

We don’t deserve men like him. Every once in a while, we get one anyway.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I read of his Korean War exploits in Halberstam’s “The Coldest Winter” (great book for the curious but intimidating to pick up).

    We don’t deserve men like him. Every once in a while, we get one anyway.


  2. CSK says:

    I wonder if Trump would call him a loser and a sucker to his face?

    RIP, Colonel. You earned it.

  3. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    I wonder if Trump would call him a loser and a sucker to his face?

    Really? (Yes, I recognize a rhetorical question when I see one. :-/ ) I wouldn’t think a guy who couldn’t manage to get out of the party tent on insurrection Capitol tourism day would be likely to say anything to anyone’s face.

  4. DK says:

    Whatta man. We are not worthy.