Ralph Puckett’s desire to serve with the newly-formed 8th Army Ranger Company in 1950 was so strong that he was willing to take a squad leader’s or rifleman’s job, because there were no lieutenant positions available. He had recently graduated from the West Point with the rank of Infantry Second lieutenant. Lieutenant Colonel John H. McGee, who had been tasked with forming the company, was so impressed with Puckett’s attitude that he gave him the position of Company Commander, a slot that was usually reserved for Captains. Upon learning this, Puckett thought to himself “Dear God, don’t let me get a bunch of good guys killed.”
Puckett knew he had to put together a crack team, and he did not have much time to do it. North Korea had special forces units that were infiltrating behind UN lines, and South Korean forces were overrun. 7 weeks after formation of the Company, Puckett and his company joined the 25th Infantry Division and began pushing North Korean troops out of South Korea. They had trained rigorously–60 hours a week, with daily 5-mile runs.
“Most soldiers will know I didn’t do that by myself, and I say that I hardly did it at all.”
The company’s defining moment came on November 25, 1950, when Puckett and his men secured Hill 205. Conditions were brutal: night time temperatures hovered near 0 degrees. Friendly fire killed two of his men, and two more succumbed to severe frostbite. Puckett led his men to take the hill, intentionally running through the open area ahead of the company in order to draw away enemy fire. That night, the Chinese launched 6 waves of attacks. Puckett was injured twice in the first 3 waves, but intentionally exposed himself to sniper fire until his men could locate and kill the sniper. By the 6th wave the company was running low on ammunition. Pucket ordered his men to fix bayonets. The Chinese overran the hill, and Puckett, by now seriously wounded by a mortar round, ordered his men to leave him behind. He ordered an artillery strike directly on his position in to give his men time to retreat. But several of his men chased off a group of Chinese who were about to capture Puckett and dragged him to safety.
Puckett spent the next year in the hospital. He recovered, and went on to command Special forces in Germany and an airborne battalion in Vietnam. In August, 1967 Puckett rallied his men to hold their position during the siege of Chu Lai. When the exhausted soldiers, preparing for their last stand, heard that Puckett had arrived, they were inspired, knowing that “…nothing bad could happen now because the Ranger was with us.”
Puckett has inspired 5 generations of soldiers as a trainer and mentor. His motto is “Be There.” Be there for the men and women whom you lead, with them when the going gets tough. He has been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars, five Purple Hearts, and, last week, the Medal of Honor.
#medalofhonor #koreanwar #army #armyranger #vietnamwar #moh