November 25, 1950 was a hellish day on Hill 205 in Korea. The 8th Army Ranger Company was under the Command of then 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Puckett, who was fresh out of the Military Academy. They were Rangers but not infantry troops, so they had little experience with combat…and neither did their commander. But because of courage and valor, Col Ralph Puckett (Ret) is now up for the Medal of Honor, 70 years after the battle of Hill 205.
The United States military was surprised at the massive entry of Chinese troops into the Korean War, and was ill prepared. Puckett had been a champion boxer in the Military Academy, but Korea was a whole different situation. When 2nd Lt Ralph Puckett was told that he would be in command of the 8th Army Ranger Company he told himself:
“Dear, God. Don’t let me get a bunch of good guys killed.”Ralph Puckett’s first thought when told he’d be in command
He volunteered for the duty that had barely six weeks to train service troops for combat. The mission was an incredibly dangerous one: it would later be known as the Battle of the Chongchon River. Hill 205 simply meant that it was 205 feet above sea level. Puckett was wounded by a hand grenade in the first day of the battle, but remained in command.
The Army credits Puckett with leading his soldiers across an open field to take the hill under intense fire, braving enemy fire repeatedly to check on his soldiers after he was wounded the first time, and directing “danger close” artillery strikes near his own position to ward off advancing Chinese soldiers.Stripes
Throughout the night, the American and Korean soldiers were attacked five more times by the Chinese before they finally had to withdraw.
“I had been wounded three times by then, and I was lying there in my foxhole unable to do anything. I could see three Chinese about 15 yards away from me, and they were bayoneting or shooting some of my wounded Rangers who were in the foxholes.”Col Ralph Puckett, Ret
He ordered his men to leave him there in the foxhole, but they refused. Two of them, Billy Walls and David Pollock, carried him to safety. Why did they disobey a lawful order?
“When they overran us, I had sent my squad back to get ammo. I had five foxholes that I covered. They never made it back. They got cut off. So, they were overrunning us and Puckett called in the artillery on us – on all of us. And it’s what saved us. … We’d have got wiped out…The boys thought so much of him, they wouldn’t leave him.”Ranger Merle Simpson, 92- wrbl interview
Puckett’s leadership style was that he was with his men, no matter what was going on around them. “Be there” was his method, which he carried into his 22 year military career. He went on to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for Hill 205, the nation’s second-highest award for valor in combat. He was the recipient of a second Distinguished Service Cross and two Silver Stars for valor in Vietnam. Puckett was awarded five Purple Hearts for injuries suffered in combat and two Bronze Star Medals with the V device for valor. The upgrade to Medal of Honor will make him one of the most decorated rangers in history. He is a legend among Ranger troops and even made an appearance at the recent “Best Ranger” competition.
Though Biden called him to tell him of the award, no date for the ceremony has been set.
Featured photo: Screenshot of Col Ralph Puckett in 2014 from the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
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