President Biden will award the Medal of Honor on Friday to retired Army Colonel Ralph Puckett Jr. for repeatedly risking enemy fire and refusing evacuation despite grievous injuries during a November 1950 mission in the Korean War.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in will attend the medal ceremony as part of his White House visit.
The 94-year-old from Georgia will be honored for his conspicuous gallantry as commander of the 8th U.S. Army Ranger Company during the successful attack against enemy positions on Hill 205.
Under intense mortar, machine-gun and small arms fire, the first lieutenant kicked off a day of bravery by leaping onto a tank to shout encouragement to his men before repeatedly leaving the safety of his position to draw enemy fire.
“During the course of the night, the enemy launched a counterattack which lasted four hours,” the White House said. “Over the course of the counterattack, the Rangers were inspired and motivated by the extraordinary leadership and courageous example exhibited by First Lieutenant Puckett.”
He was wounded by grenade fragments but kept pushing, moving from “foxhole to foxhole” to check the company’s perimeter and distribute ammunition to the Rangers.
Then, he was seriously wounded by enemy mortar rounds, limiting his mobility.
“Knowing his men were in a precarious situation, First Lieutenant Puckett commanded the Rangers to leave him behind and evacuate the area,” the White House said. “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.”
They were successful and seized the hill.
Col. Puckett enlisted in the Army in 1943 as a private before attending the U.S. Military Academy and rising through the officer ranks.
After the Korean conflict, which pitted North Korea and its Chinese and Soviet backers against South Korea and the U.S. and western allies, Col. Puckett served in the Vietnam War from July 1967 to July 1968.
He retired from active duty in 1971 and founded companies that specialize in leadership and teamwork development.
Still active in the community, he lives with Jean, his wife of 68 years. They have two daughters, one of whom is deceased, a son and six grandchildren.