94-year-old Korean War veteran awarded Medal of Honor 71 years later


 Seventy years ago, on a frozen hilltop deep in what is now North Korea, a young First Lieutenant bravely, out of West Point — and barely out of West Point — acted with bravery and — that earned him the Distinguished Service Cross, the military’s second-highest honor, President Joe Biden said of 94-year-old retired U.S. Army Colonel Ralph Puckett, Jr.

Puckett was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor through the efforts of former U.S. Senator John McCain.

On 25 November 1950, Puckett and his company became famous when they captured and held Hill 205, a strategic point overlooking the Chongchon River. Initially, they had to brace for attack from all sides, as the company of only 51 strong was over a mile from the nearest friendly unit and vulnerable to being completely surrounded. Fortunately for the Rangers, they had artillery support for parts of the night. Earlier in the evening, Puckett had coordinated a series of increasingly more dangerous fire missions with the artillery, in order for the Rangers to have artillery support to rapidly adjust to new attacks.

At 10pm, the Chinese began their attack by firing a mortar salvo against Puckett and his Rangers. Six waves of Chinese forces assaulted the hill for the next four and a half hours. Several times, Puckett was forced to call in artillery fire “danger close”, placing the Rangers within the danger radius of the friendly artillery. During the course of the battle, he was wounded several times, once by grenade fragments and then twice more when two mortars landed in his fox hole. After his wounds rendered him barely conscious, Puckett ordered his Rangers to leave him behind and abandon the position. Two of Puckett’s Rangers, PFCs David L. Pollock and Billy G. Walls, ignored his orders and initially carried him and subsequently dragged him down the hill as they received ineffective small arms fire. Puckett was medically evacuated from the hill and would be hospitalized for a year due to the wounds he suffered that night.


“Colonel, I’m humbled to have you here today, I really am, along with your loving family, and to award you the Medal of Honor.  And though I understand that your first response to us hosting this event was to ask, “Why all the fuss?” 
“Why all the fuss?  Can’t they just mail it to me?” I was going to make a joke about the Post Office, but I decided not to do that,” President Biden said before bestowing the long overdue award.

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An account of Puckett’s action was described by the President:

On the morning of November 25, 1950, mounted on the decks of the tanks, 51 of Puckett’s Rangers and 9 Korean enlisted soldiers set out to take Hill 205. To make their charge, they had to cross about half a mile of frozen rice paddies under fire. 

When an enemy machine gunner slowed the Rangers’ advance, Puckett risked his life by running across the area to draw fire that would reveal where the location of the nest.  He did it once.  He did it again.  It took three runs intentionally exposing himself to the enemy to pick off the gunner. 

When the Rangers finally reached the top of Hill 205, they found it abandoned, but Puckett knew the fight wasn’t nearly over.  His men established a defensive perimeter, and then went to coordinate the artillery support he was sure they would need, and, while he was there, to load up on ammunition and grenades — the basics.

Shortly after he returned, the first onslaught began.  Mortars followed by a ground assault from the entire Chinese battalion.  Puckett’s Rangers were outnumbered almost ten to one.

During the fight, Puckett abandoned the relative safety of his foxhole, moving from man to man, encouraging them in the fight, checking that the perimeter was holding.

He took a grenade fragment in his left thigh, but Puckett refused to be evacuated.  He was a Ranger.  He led his men from the front.  And over the course of the next several hours, four more waves of assaults came. Each time, Puckett made his rounds, passing out extra ammo and extra encouragement to rally his men.

Each time, he was able to call in artillery support — sometimes “danger close” — to help break the advance of the Chinese soldiers.  Each time, the Rangers held the hill, pushing the enemy back — at times, with hand-to-hand fighting.  About 2:30 a.m., after more than four hours of near nonstop fighting, the sixth wave began. 

By this time, the Rangers had — many Rangers had been killed, and those who are left were exhausted, outnumbered, and dangerly [sic] short of amm- — dangerously short of ammunition and grenades.  Lieutenant Puckett had sustained a second wound, this time in his left shoulder.  He had distributed all the ammo to his men, keeping only eight bullets and a bayonet for himself. 

For the last time, Puckett called in artillery support, only to be told that the guns were supporting other besieged units. Then two mortar rounds landed directly in Puckett’s foxhole, tearing through both his feet and his backside and his left arm and shoulder.  Puckett’s Rangers had been overwhelmed, and he himself was badly wounded.  He ordered one of his men who found him on the ground to leave him behind.  But that’s not the Ranger creed. 

A Private ran for help, and soon two other Rangers charged back up the hill, fighting off advancing Chinese soldiers, retrieving their commander.  They had to drag him down the hill, with Lieutenant Puckett reminding them, and himself, that he could take the pain.  Quote, “I’m a Ranger.” 

Before his men loaded him on a tank to evacuate, Lieutenant Puckett called for one final barrage on Hill 205.  And the Eighth Army unloaded artillery, while phosphorus on the Rangers’ former — and phosph- — phosphorus on the Rangers’ former position.  They did not hold the hill, but the Rangers extracted a high price. 

President Joe Biden