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2004 Distinguished Graduate Award


Colonel Ralph Puckett, Jr., Class of 1949, has richly exemplified the ideals of West Point. For five decades he has served our Nation, our Army, and our soldiers. In so doing, he has shown himself to be a truly distinguished graduate of his alma mater.

After graduating from West Point, where he captained the Army Boxing Team, then-Second Lieutenant Puckett deployed to Japan, where he recruited and trained a Ranger company for critical operations in Korea. Puckett led them heroically. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in November 1950, when he led his small company in a legendary and desperate defense against multiple assaults by hundreds of Chinese attackers. He did so while sustaining multiple severe wounds.

Ralph Puckett's next assignment further established his prominence within the Army's community of Rangers. At the Infantry School, he served as a Ranger instructor, commanding the Mountain Ranger Division. Subsequently, he was the first Ranger advisor to the U.S. Army Mission to Colombia, establishing the Escuela de Lanceros, the Colombian Ranger School, where he still contributes as a speaker and advisor. In this hemisphere, Colonel Puckett's influence has been vast. Through the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly the School of the Americas, he has improved military leadership in at least seventeen nations.

As a major, Ralph Puckett's reputation as a soldier's soldier grew. In the 1960s, the early years of Army Special Forces, he commanded in the 10th Special Forces Group at Bad Tolz, Germany, leading teams in covert insertions by land, parachute, and submarine. Writing of those years, a noncommissioned officer reminisced: "When the weather was the most miserable and the exercise the most high risk and physically challenging, Major Puckett was always there, leading."

In 1967, then-Lieutenant Colonel Puckett commanded the 2d Battalion, 502d Infantry (Airborne) of the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. He was awarded a second Distinguished Service Cross for heroic leadership in August 1967. During a dire, night-long defense near Chu Lai, he inspired his soldiers, who rallied to repel the attacking North Vietnamese. A rifle platoon leader preparing for a "last stand" recalled Colonel Puckett's effect on the nearly exhausted soldiers: " . . . word of Colonel Puckett's arrival spread like wildfire. We all stiffened up and felt that nothing bad could happen now because the Ranger was with us." Whether in combat actions such as this one and others in Vietnam, or as Commander, 1st Regiment of the United States Corps of Cadets, or later, as Commander, 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division, Colonel Puckett had a reputation for staying with his soldiers until the hardship or danger had passed. A gentleman, teacher, family man, and mentor, he is, above all, a warrior with a passion for soldiers.

Although retired from active duty, Colonel Puckett still serves. Honorary Colonel of the 75th Ranger Regiment, he is omnipresent as a speaker, writer, and advisor. In fact, more than five decades after his West Point graduation, he could be found walking the swamps and hiking the hills at the Ranger School, encouraging and instructing the rising generation of American soldiers. Colonel Puckett's contributions to seminars, panels, and advisory committees is extensive. He served on the Chief of Staff, Army Task Force Soldier, charged with reviewing soldier training, equipment, and readiness needs to support soldiers fighting the war on terrorism.

Civilian communities have also benefited from Colonel Puckett's counsel. He was a national programs coordinator for Outward Bound. Subsequently, he founded Discovery, Incorporated, a program aimed at imbuing young people with self-confidence and the sense of teamwork. In the tri-city Columbus-Phenix City-Fort Benning area, he is known for service, loyalty, and integrity and actively involved in numerous civic responsibilities.

Inducted into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame in 1992, Colonel Ralph Puckett received a great many awards and decorations. In addition to the Distinguished Service Crosses, two Silver Stars, and five Purple Hearts, he has received the Cross of Gallantry with Palm from the Republic of Vietnam and the Order of Military Merit from the Republic of Colombia. He has earned parachute badges from four nations. Colonel Puckett is one of the few Army members inducted into the Air Force Staff College's Gathering of Eagles, partly in recognition of his ten Air Medals. Perhaps most impressive, however, is the way he has been revered by those who have known him. As one of those succinctly observed, "He lives to spend his life for others." Colonel Ralph Puckett, Jr. has led an extraordinary life of service to the Nation, to American soldiers, and to those in his community. His example has brought immeasurable credit to the Long Gray Line. Accordingly, the Association of Graduates takes great pride in presenting him the 2004 Distinguished Graduate Award.

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