Retired Officer To Get Medal of Honor for Valor in Korean Battle

Retired Officer To Get Medal of Honor for Valor in Korean Battle Congressional Medal of Honor hanging in the air with a military cemetery in the background  (Dreamstime)

By Sandy Fitzgerald | Thursday, 20 May 2021 08:14 AM

Retired U.S. Army Col. Ralph Puckett Jr. will receive the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor for valor in action, during a White House ceremony on Friday in recognition of his actions in 1950 during the Korean War.

Puckett is being honored for leading fellow rangers and Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA) soldiers across frozen terrain, while under enemy fire, to seize and defend Hill 205, located in the vicinity of Unsan, Korea, reports the U.S. Army.

On Wednesday, the White House announced the honors, saying that Puckett had gone above and beyond the call of duty while serving as the Eighth Army Ranger Company's commanding officer during the multi-day operation starting on Nov. 25, 1950.

Puckett became the unit's commanding officer, as a first lieutenant shortly after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy. He had little infantry training and no combat experience when he was tasked to start the unit, located at Camp Drake, Japan.

He had his pick of hundreds of soldiers who volunteered for the unit, allowing him to base members based on weapons qualification scores, duty performance, their athletic ability, and their personal desire to serve as an Army Ranger.

After that, the Eighth Army Ranger Company relocated to then-Pusan, Korea. They began what was expected to be seven weeks of specialized training, and soldiers who could not meet the standard were cut from the company and replaced with the KATUSA soldiers.

However, their training was cut to five-and-a-half weeks in early October 1950, when the company was redesignated as the 8213th Army Unit and attached to the 25th Infantry Division.

In the days before Nov. 25, 1950, the 25th Infantry Division, with the Eighth Army Ranger Company, had been pursuing North Korean forces retreating north toward the Yalu River and the Chinese border.

Puckett's company, suffering several casualties, seized and occupied Hill 222 on Nov. 24, and the next morning, Puckett got the orders to secure Hill 205 and defend the critical position overlooking the Chongchon River, reports the Army.

The next morning, Puckett led his unit of 57 soldiers after they endured a night of below zero temperatures and did not sleep, to Hill 205. They were riding on top of Sherman tanks from the 89th Tank Battalion when they encountered enemy fire a half-mile from the hill.

He then took the company, under heavy enemy fire, across 800 yards of frozen rice paddies and at one point crossed the section three times in an effort to locate and take out a concealed enemy machine-gun position.

And once at the base of the hill, Puckett ordered the Rangers to fix their bayonets and then he led them to secure the hill. Six Rangers were wounded.

Meanwhile, Puckett and a handful of soldiers returned to battalion headquarters to obtain a radio to replace the one that was lost in the initial battle, and after they got back to the hill at about 10 p.m. that night, the Rangers came under heavy fire, when Chinese forces entered the Korean conflict.

That was the first of six battalion-sized attacks against the Puckett-led unit. He directed a strong defense and called in "danger close" artillery to keep the aggressors at bay, and even though he'd sustained a wound to his right thigh, he refused to leave.

Puckett's company was outnumbered by nearly 10 to 1, but he led his company and artillery support through additional counterattacks, and he left his foxhole during each attack to motivate his Rangers, observe the enemy's movements, and call in artillery.

On Nov. 26, the final counterattack, the battalion-sized Chinese force finally overran Hill 205, and the Eighth Army Ranger Company received heavy casualties while Puckett ordered his troops to withdraw.

However, Puckett, who was seriously injured, ordered the Rangers to leave him behind, but two soldiers fought back against the Chinese and dragged him back to safety.

Ten Rangers overall in the mission were either killed or reported missing, and another 31 were wounded.

Initially, Puckett was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions. He was also awarded another Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during the Vietnam War, and retired from the Army in 1971.

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