On Friday, President Joe Biden
bestowed the Medal of Honor on a 94-year-old retired Army colonel for valor under fire during the Korean War
more than a half-century ago.
It took a policy shift for retired Col. Ralph Puckett Jr.
to receive the military
's highest honor: the 2020 defense policy bill removed a requirement that such awards be made within five years of a valorous act.
“Today we are honoring a true American hero and awarding an honor that has been long overdue — more than 70 years overdue,” Biden said during the East Room ceremony, “though I understand that your first reaction to us hosting this event was to wonder why all the fuss.”
Puckett suggested that the award be mailed to Biden, according to Biden.
“Rather than mailing it to you, I would have walked it to you,” Biden said, adding that the retired Ranger deserved a “little fuss.”
Puckett, as a first lieutenant, assisted the 8th United States Army Ranger Company in securing a strategically important hill near Unsan over two days in November 1950, despite mortar, machine gun
, and small arms fire.
Puckett sprinted across the open area to draw fire, allowing Rangers to locate and destroy enemy positions. Two mortar rounds later landed in his foxhole during the fighting, seriously wounding him, and he ordered his men to leave him behind and leave the hill, but they refused.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in was the first foreign leader to attend the White House
ceremony in advance of his meeting with Biden.
“The freedom and democracy
we have today would not have blossomed in Korea without the sacrifice of veterans
, including Colonel Puckett and the Eighth Army Ranger Company
,” Moon said.
Puckett currently resides in Columbus, Georgia
, with his 68-year-old wife, Jean.