Col. Ralph Puckett, Jr.: Hero and Leader Par Excellence

The guileless quality of humility one sees in these Medal of Honor recipient videos is always stunning to me. This video of Col. Ralph Puckett, Jr. is yet another example of that unique quality of humility. It makes one realize that the kind of courage that these MOH recipients acted out of in the midst of battle had to come from that same virtue.  

Puckett, Jr. graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1949. He arrived at the academy already shored up in his character by a father who always told him that he had to be a man of moral character, in order to live a good life committed to the duties of an adult male as a husband and a father and a person in society. These are the ancillary qualities that arise out of the virtue of humility.  One has to put others first in order to be that kind of person that lives a life oriented toward the good. Moral character is, and always has been, the truest sign of a mature adult. 

Puckett, Jr. graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1949.
Puckett, Jr. graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1949.

Apparently those qualities are also valuable when one is put in the role of leadership. Puckett, Jr., as a newly minted 2nd Lt.  was sent to serve with the 8th Army in Japan. When he arrived the commanding officer, told him that he was selecting him to be a part of a new, special unit called the Rangers. Not only that, he was told that he was going to be this new unit’s first commanding officer.  Puckett, Jr. was shaken by this. He knew that he had no experience of any sort upon which to draw for such an important position, either in leadership or combat experience. But he took on the challenges.

Puckett, Jr., as a newly minted 2nd Lt.  was sent to serve with the 8th Army in Japan.
Puckett, Jr., as a newly minted 2nd Lt.  was sent to serve with the 8th Army in Japan.

It is said that Puckett, Jr. was told he could not take any infantrymen from the 8th Army to form this new unit. So what did he do?  He rounded up truck drivers, cooks, supply section troops and within 2 months had formed them into a cohesive unit experimenting with this new concept of a Ranger unit.  He was the first commander of the first ever Army Ranger unit, the 8th Army Ranger Battalion.   

In 1950 Puckett, Jr. and his unit found themselves in the early stages of the Korean War. They had fought their way up to a few miles south of the Yalu River in North Korea and were told to take a place called Hill 205. They found themselves up against the Chinese forces for the first time there.  

Puckett, Jr. was the first commander of the first ever Army Ranger unit, the 8th Army Ranger Battalion. 
Puckett, Jr. was the first commander of the first ever Army Ranger unit, the 8th Army Ranger Battalion. 

The fighting was intense. It was bitter cold at the end of November. Puckett, Jr., being the kind of leader he was, was right up front with his men in the middle of the action. During the battle, he exposed himself to enemy fire several times by running in the open before his troops. He was trying to get the Chinese to expose themselves when they fired at him, making it possible for his men to spot them and concentrate their fire on those Chinese troops.  Puckett was wounded the first time in this battle by shrapnel from a mortar round. The Chinese had launched several mortar attacks on their position.  

Despite his wounds he kept fighting and leading his men against the larger Chinese forces. As you will hear, Puckett, Jr. always acted on behalf of his men, not himself. He counted them more important, believed that his role was to care for his men with all he had. His prayer was always that God give him the strength to take care of his men. He was wounded again and his some of his men dragged him back to cover. He told them to leave him there and to fall back. They disobeyed his orders and carried him out with them.  

Puckett, Jr. and his wife after the war.
Puckett, Jr. and his wife after the war.

You see, humility and concern for others, leads to the same kind of humility and care in return. His men knew that he would do anything for them, that he cared for them enough to sacrifice everything for them. When the time came for them to return that care and concern, they did so without hesitation. That says it all.

Puckett’s awards include:

  • Medal of Honor
  • Distinguished Service Cross
  • 2 Silver Stars
  • 3 Legions of Merit
  • 2 Bronze Stars with V device for valor
  • 5 Purple Hearts
  • 10 Air Medals
  • Army Commendation Medal
  • Combat Infantryman’s Badge with star
  • Special Forces Tab
  • Ranger Tab
  • Master Parachutist Wings
  • Glider Badge
  • Columbian Lancero Ranger Badge

Puckett, Jr. was awarded the Medal of Honor at the age of 94, 70 years after the Korean War by President Biden at the White House on May 21st of this year. 

Puckett, Jr. earned many medals for his actions in war.
Puckett, Jr. earned many medals for his actions in war.

You will meet Puckett, Jr.’s wife in this video as well. And you will see that she, too, had developed the same kind of humble and caring and committed character as her husband. This is a great story on many levels.  Col. Ralph Puckett, Jr. is a role model for us all.

We thank Col. Ralph Puckett, Jr. for showing future generations of Rangers and their leaders what real leadership looks like. You have our respect, and our thanks for your honorable and noble service to your Ranger, the Army and your country. God bless Col. Ralph Puckett, Jr.

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