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Medal of Honor Recipient COL (R) Puckett ’49 Dies at 97

Category: Grad News
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Recent Medal of Honor Recipient and 2004 West Point Distinguished Graduate Award recipient COL (R) Puckett ’49 has died at the age of 97. 

Puckett received the Medal of Honor on May 21, 2021 and on May 23, 2023, was honored with a Medal of Honor Plaque in the Inchon Sallyport at West Point. 

Born in Tifton, Georgia, Puckett graduated from USMA and received his commission as an Infantry officer in 1949. Assigned to occupation duty in Okinawa, he volunteered for the Eighth Army Ranger Company, which was formed shortly after the Korean War began in 1950.​

Selected as the company’s commander, 1LT Puckett had five-and-a-half weeks to train his Rangers before being committed to combat operations. While attached to Task Force Dolvin and leading the advance of the 25th Infantry Division on November 25, 1950, Puckett and his Rangers attacked and secured Hill 205 in the vicinity of Unsan, Korea. 

Although outnumbered, Puckett and his Rangers defeated five successive Chinese counterattacks over four hours that night and into the early morning hours of November 26. Finally, on the sixth assault, with supporting artillery fires unavailable, the Ranger company was overrun in hand-to-hand combat. Having suffered multiple serious wounds, Puckett was unable to move. Despite orders to abandon him, fellow Rangers fought their way to his side and evacuated him to safety. For his actions, Puckett was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.​

While offered a medical discharge for his wounds, Puckett refused and continued to serve on active duty at assignments that included the U.S. Army Ranger School and West Point. As a Ranger advisor to the Columbian Army, Puckett established the prestigious Escuela de Lanceros program. Later, after completing Special Forces training in 1960, Puckett commanded B and C teams in the 10th Special Forces Group in Bad Tolz, Germany.​

Retiring in 1971, he became the national programs coordinator of Outward Bound, Inc., and subsequently established Discovery, Inc., a leadership and teamwork development program that focused on “Personal growth through safe adventure.”

In 1992, he was an inaugural inductee into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame and, from 1996 to 2006, he served as the first honorary colonel of the 75th Ranger Regiment. Other honors followed, including an appointment as an ambassador of goodwill by the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, selection as a 2004 Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, and being chosen as a 2007 recipient of the Infantry’s Doughboy Award.

Puckett lived in Columbus, Georgia, with his wife. They have two daughters, one of whom is deceased, a son and six grandchildren. His awards include two Distinguished Service Crosses (one of which was upgraded to the Medal of Honor); two Silver Stars; two Legions of Merit; two Bronze Stars with V device for valor; five Purple Hearts; 10 Air Medals; the Army Commendation Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal, among others. In addition, he earned the Combat Infantryman’s Badge with star, Special Forces Tab, Ranger Tab, Master Parachutist Wings, Glider Badge and Columbian Lancero Ranger Badge.​

During the Medal of Honor Plaque Unveiling Ceremony at West Point, 61st USMA Superintendent LTG Steven W. Gilland ’90 praised Puckett for his exemplary leadership.

“These plaques, which the Corps of Cadets pass by every day, serve to help tell a story about our history and those who helped shape it,” Gilland said. “But these plaques are more than historical markers to simply educate us – they also serve to inspire us – as they are memorials to excellence and character, and to the courage, devotion to duty, honorable leadership and the selfless service to some of the heroes of the Long Gray Line, like COL Ralph Puckett. They stand to help us remember why we serve and to reflect upon our values and the ideals of Duty, Honor and Country.”

Visit Puckett’s Be Thou At Peace page to read or leave a testimonial. 

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