- Retired US Army Col. Ralph Puckett Jr., 94, received the Medal of Honor on Friday.
- He arrived at the ceremony in a wheelchair, was helped on stage, and was seated for most of the event.
- But he stood on his own for the reading of the citation and to receive the award, even pushing away a walker.
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When retired US Army Col. Ralph Puckett Jr., 94, received the Medal of Honor on Friday, he stood on his own, pushing away a walker offered to him for support.
Puckett, a former Army Ranger and a decorated Korean War veteran, arrived at Friday’s ceremony in the East Room of the White House in a wheelchair, was helped on stage by two Army officials, and remained seated as President Joe Biden described his achievements, of which there are many.
But when it came time for the reading of his citation and the presentation of the award, Puckett stood up without assistance, despite his apparent mobility issues. When a nearby soldier brought a walker over to him, placing it in front of him, but he pushed it off to the side, standing at attention.
A soldier then came over to personally support him, but he simply smiled and signaled that he did not need any help, though he would later accept it, if only for a brief moment before accepting the award.
“This is an honor that was long overdue,” Biden said Friday at the ceremony. “More than 70 years overdue.”
Puckett received the military’s highest honor for valor for his outstanding actions on “Hill 205” near Unsan, Korea, on November 25, 1950 — heroism for which he was initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
On that day more than 70 years ago, he led the several dozen men of the 8th Army Ranger Company across frozen ground to seize a hilltop position from the enemy.
That night and into the next morning, Puckett led his men as they faced wave after wave of counterattacks by a force that outnumbered his almost 10 to one.
While in the fight, Puckett intentionally and repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire, risking his life over and over again to bring in fire support and call in artillery, help his soldiers locate machine gun nests, check on his men, and deliver ammunition.
Puckett suffered multiple injuries from a grenade and mortar round, only slowing down when a severe injury left him unable to move. When the hilltop could no longer be held, he ordered his men to leave him behind, so as not to slow their retreat, but they refused that order.
At the base of the hill, he called in devastating artillery on the enemy. As Biden said Friday, though they were not able to hold the hill, they exacted a heavy price from the enemy.
During his 22 years in the US armed forces, Puckett fought in both Korea and Vietnam.
He earned two Distinguished Service Crosses, two Silver Stars for valor, two Bronze Stars for valor, and five Purple Hearts, among other military honors and distinctions. With the upgrade of one DSC to the Medal of Honor, Puckett is now among the most decorated soldiers in US history.
Speaking at the award ceremony Friday, the president said of Puckett that “he leads from the front, he leads by example, he leads with his heart, he’s a Ranger and that’s how Rangers lead. That’s how you lead.”
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