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Medal of Honor recipient Col. Ralph Puckett lies in honor in Capitol rotunda

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(WASHINGTON) — Ralph Puckett Jr., Colonel, United States Army, Retired. A name of honor and now for history.


Medal of Honor recipient Puckett’s cremated remains lay in honor Monday afternoon at the center of the Capitol rotunda — one of the nation’s highest honors. Puckett died April 8 at the age of 97 in Columbus, Georgia.

To lie in state or honor at the U.S. Capitol is a privilege reserved for the country’s most-distinguished citizens and leaders, including United States presidents and some of the country’s most-decorated veterans of war. Only seven citizens — Rosa Parks and Billy Graham and four U.S. Capitol police officers — have ever lay in honor.

Puckett drew enemy fire and exposed himself multiple times to danger to allow his fellow Army Rangers to find and destroy enemy positions during a multi-wave attack, which earned him the Medal of Honor.

“The courage and self-sacrifice that earned that honor will be this great man’s eternal legacy,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said during Monday’s ceremony.

President Joe Biden awarded Puckett the Medal of Honor on May 21, 2021, upgrading one of his Distinguished Service Crosses, for Puckett showing “extraordinary heroism and selflessness” in the Korean War more than 70 years ago, explaining that the award finally gave Puckett’s “act of valor the full recognition they have always deserved.”

Moon Jae-in, president of the Republic of Korea, joined the celebration in the East Room — becoming the first foreign leader to attend a Medal of Honor ceremony.

“Colonel Puckett is a true hero of the Korean War. With extraordinary valor and leadership, he completed missions until the very end, defending Hill 205 and fighting many more battles requiring equal valiance,” Moon said. “Without the sacrifice of veterans, including Colonel Puckett and the Eighth Army Ranger Company, freedom and democracy we enjoy today couldn’t have blossomed in Korea.”

Speaker Mike Johnson expressed hope that the next generation of service members and warfighters “learn” from Puckett’s example and “aspire the same great virtues of valor and honor and courage.”

“These heroes were forged by fire. They were built through great adversity. They were ordinary men. Most of them had to do extraordinary things because they were driven by a profound sense of duty and self-sacrifice and faith that their cause was just,” Johnson said. “That our values in our country were worth defending, and that God would honor the inestimable value of their personal commitments. The soldiers of the Korean War did the right thing, even at great cost to themselves, and theirs is an example we should all admire and aspire to.”

According to a military citation read at the ceremony, Puckett was awarded the Medal of Honor “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty” serving as the commander 8th U.S. Army Ranger Company during November 25-26,1950, in Korea.

As Puckett’s unit commenced a daylight offensive, the Korean enemy directed mortar, machine gun and small-arms fire against the advancing U.S. force, the citation read. Puckett mounted a tank, “exposing himself to the deadly enemy fire” before leaping from the tank, shouting “words of encouragement” to his men before leading the Rangers in the attack.

As enemy fire “threatened the success of the attack by pinning down” one U.S. platoon, Puckett “intentionally ran across an open area three times to draw enemy fire, thereby allowing the Rangers to locate and destroy the enemy positions and to seize Hill 205,” the citation noted.

A counterattack lasted hours, and though Puckett was wounded by grenade fragments early in the fight, he refused evacuation and continually directed artillery support that decimated attacking enemy formations.

During a sixth attack, two enemy mortar rounds landed in his foxhole, inflicting “grievous wounds” and limiting his mobility. Puckett issued a command to leave him behind and evacuate the area. But two Rangers refused the order and retrieved him from the foxhole — moving him out from under enemy fire to the bottom of the hill, where Puckett then “called for devastating artillery fire on the top of the enemy-controlled hill.”

“First Lieutenant Puckett’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army,” the citation concluded.

Puckett later returned to service and deployed to combat in Vietnam, where he was again honored for his gallantry. Among his other awards are five Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars, three Legion of Merit awards, two Bronze Star medals and a second Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in Vietnam.

The flags at the U.S. Capitol flew at half-staff on Monday in tribute to Puckett.

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