Col. Ralph Puckett Jr., Belated Medal of Honor Winner, Dies at 97

Col. Ralph Puckett Jr., who was awarded the Medal of Honor in May 2021 for his exploits commanding vastly outnumbered Army Rangers in a battle with Communist Chinese troops during the Korean War seven decades earlier, 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.

His death was announced by the National Infantry Museum in Columbus.

John D. Lock, a retired Army officer and military historian, undertook a campaign dating back to 2003 to have Colonel Puckett’s Distinguished Service Cross, earned in November 1950, upgraded to the Medal of Honor. His efforts succeeded when President Biden presented the medal to Colonel Puckett at a White House ceremony attended by the South Korean president at the time, Moon Jae-in.

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 Benning, Ga., 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.

“If it had not been for the sacrifice of Korean War veterans, the Republic of Korea of today would not exist,” he said.

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