Seventy years after a battle on a Korean hillside helped shape retired Army Col. Ralph Puckett’s life, his heroic actions could earn him the military’s highest honor for valor.
The 93-year-old Puckett lives in Columbus and is a civic and military icon at Fort Benning and throughout the Chattahoochee Valley. Respect for him is Army, especially in the Ranger community. He turns 94 on Tuesday.
In the final version of the new defense budget is a provision that would allow four soldiers to be recommended to receive the Medal of Honor, according to a Thursday report on Military.com. The bill must be signed by President Donald Trump and he has indicated he might veto it over other concerns.
In addition to Puckett, Army Specialist 5th Class Dwight Birdwell; and Sgt. 1st Class Earl Plumlee; and Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, an Iraq War hero who was killed in 2005 ambush. Cashe was assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry that was based at Fort Benning at the time.
Late Friday, the president signed a separate bill that had been previously passed specifically for Cashe.
The next step for Cashe is the Department of Defense has to nominate the soldier for the award. Then the president has to approve it again.
If President Trump signs the bill currently on his desk, the other three would have to go through the same process.
A Tifton, Ga., native and graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Puckett was a young first lieutenant who commanded the Eight Army Ranger Company in Korea in 1950.
And he found himself in the fight of his life on Hill 205 near Unsan.
He was wounded multiple times in the two-day battle for the hill. His force was smaller than the enemy and survived six counterattacks.
“Detecting that his company was about to be overrun and forced to withdraw, he ordered his men to leave him behind so as not to endanger their withdrawal,” his citation states. “Despite his protests, he was dragged from the hill to a position of safety.”
He assumed command of that unit in Japan days before they deployed behind enemy lines. In a 2014 interview with the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Puckett recalled the events that led him to volunteer for the Army Ranger unit and how he became the squad leader with no combat experience.
When the commander told Puckett that he would command the squad, Puckett remembered his initial reaction.
“And I said to myself, ‘Dear God, please don’t let me get a bunch of good guys killed,” Puckett told the Ledger-Enquirer. “Of course, I knew I did not know enough to be a squad leader. Probably didn’t know enough to be a rifleman. But I decided I would do my best, and with God’s help, I wouldn’t get a bunch of good guys killed.”
Puckett received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in Korea. Puckett retired from the Army in 1971. The last 25 years he has spent considerable time at Fort Benning around the troops. He is an honorary colonel of the 75th Ranger Regiment headquartered at Fort Benning.
Puckett and his wife, the former Jean Martin, live in north Columbus. They met at Fort Benning after he was hospitalized and recovering from the Korean War injuries.