This week’s America250 salute is Army Veteran Ralph Puckett Jr.
Ralph Puckett Jr. was born in 1926 in Tifton, Georgia. His military career began in the U.S. Army Air Corps Enlisted Reserve as a pre-aviation cadet training to become a pilot while studying at Georgia Tech. However, he took an offer of a discharge after his program disbanded. Still seeking to become a pilot, Puckett eventually secured an appointment to West Point because it still trained pilots. He graduated in 1949 as a new second lieutenant in the Army.
After graduation, Puckett’s first assignment took him to Okinawa, Japan, for occupation duty as an infantry officer. Once in Japan, he received the opportunity to help shape the new Eighth Army Ranger Company. Puckett was given less than two months to train non-infantry members to become Rangers in preparation for the Korean War.
Puckett’s company arrived in Korea in September 1950. They received orders in late November to capture Hill 205 during the Battle of Ch’ongch’on. The hill was a strategic location near the Ch’ongch’on River that was 60 miles from the Chinese border. The attack began Nov. 25. While moving towards the hill, Puckett used himself to draw enemy fire to help his company spot and attack the Chinese forces holding it. Eventually, Puckett’s men succeeded in taking the hill—but they did not hold it for long.
When night came, the Chinese forces launched an unrelenting counterattack. Puckett’s company of approximately 50 soldiers quickly found themselves in a dire situation being outnumbered 10 to one with roughly 500 Chinese soldiers at the hill’s edge.
The first wave came when Puckett’s company received mortar and gunfire. It did not stop until an artillery strike and the Rangers’ small arms fire halted the advance. Puckett was injured by grenade fragments during the first wave. The Chinese forces launched five more attacks during the night. Puckett received enemy fire and numerous wounds. Nonetheless, he helped his men repel the enemy each time they attacked.
Throughout the night, the company’s casualties climbed as they fought against the relentless enemy. Misfortune struck at 2:45 am when the Chinese forces launched a sixth and final attack. This time, artillery was not available. By now, Chinese forces were well on their way to retaking the hill. Puckett had severe injuries and was barely conscious when he ordered his men to retreat and leave him behind. The nearest enemies were 10 yards away from Puckett when two of his retreating men returned and fired at the enemies, driving them away from him. The men eventually brought their wounded commander to safety. Finally, Puckett called a final artillery strike against the hill before being evacuated.
In the face of insurmountable odds, Puckett’s leadership and example helped his men repel five waves of attack while successfully evacuating after the sixth wave. For his actions on Hill 205, Puckett received a Distinguished Service Cross. This award was elevated to a Medal of Honor in May 2021, 70 years after the Korean War.
After the war, Puckett served as a Ranger instructor at Fort Benning, Georgia. He also helped the Colombian army establish its Ranger school, called Escuela de Lanceros.
He volunteered for a combat tour in the Vietnam War in 1967. Here, he commanded three different battalions of the 101st Airborne Division. During his service in Vietnam, Puckett received a Distinguished Service Cross and two Silver Stars.
Puckett retired in 1971 at the rank of colonel. His awards include a Medal of Honor, a Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, three Legions of Merit, two Bronze Stars with V device for valor, five Purple Hearts, 10 Air Medals, an Army Commendation Medal and a World War II Victory Medal. He also earned a Combat Infantryman’s Badge with star, Special Forces Tab, Ranger Tab, Master Parachutist Wings, Glider Badge and Columbian Lancero Ranger Badge.
During a Medal of Honor ceremony in May 2021, President Joseph R. Biden stated, “He leads from the front. He leads by example. He leads with heart. He is a Ranger, and that’s how Rangers lead — that’s how you lead.”
Puckett lives in Columbus, Georgia, with his wife of 68 years. They have three children, one of whom passed away, and six grandchildren. He remains a mentor to the Ranger and Army communities.
Thank you for your service.
VA is highlighting 250 Veterans leading up to July 4, 2026, which marks 250 years of independence. Learn more about the count down to 250 years of the American spirit at https://america250.org/.
Writer: Raymond Lin
Editor: Annabelle Colton, Merrit Pope
Fact Checker: Frank Grabarz
Graphic Designer: Kiki Kelley