WASHINGTON, D.C. (WRBL) — Retired Army Lt. Col. John Lock waited patiently — and sometimes not so patiently — for nearly two decades to capture the moment Col. Ralph Puckett received the nation’s highest military honor.
In the East Room of the White House on May 21, President Joe Biden awarded Puckett the Medal of Honor. Lock, who had pushed the Army for 18 years to upgrade Puckett’s Distinguished Service Cross to the Medal of Honor, was in the room seated on the third row just behind South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
As two presidents took a knee beside Puckett in the family photo of a lifetime, Lock leaned into the aisle and took his own picture, moving in front of the official cameras.
He had earned that moment.
Puckett never sought the Medal of Honor for his actions on Hill 205.
Puckett earned the Distinguished Service Cross – the second-highest military honor – in the wake of the November 1950 Korean War battle.
Lock, a U.S. Army Ranger, an author, Ranger historian and former West Point professor, began the quest to have Puckett’s commendation ungraded in 2003.
“I can point to three different times it was dead in the water,” Lock told News 3.
On multiple occasions, Puckett told Lock to stop the effort. Like the men who carried Puckett off the battlefield to safety against Puckett’s orders 71 years ago, Lock kept fighting.
And he did it out of respect for Puckett and the Eighth Army Rangers, who had been a forgotten piece of the “Forgotten War.”
“The man is the quintessential American Warrior,” Lock said of Puckett. “He goes by the moniker within the Special Operations community as “The Ranger” going back to Vietnam.”
After three times being rejected by the Army, Lock turned to Senator John McCain, a Vietnam POW, for help.
“He ended up being the crucial role,” Lock said of McCain. “And it was kind of inadvertently. It was not a direct result.”
It started as McCain was battling the cancer that would take his life in 2018.
“They denied him also,” Lock said. “We were still dead in the water. But the caveat was they mentioned something to him that they had never mentioned to me or anyone else I have worked with. … They noted there was another appeals board we could go to. That had never been mentioned before.”
Lock was able to make that case to the three-person Corrections Board that considered that appeal, walking through the door McCain had opened.
There were still hurdles to be cleared. Getting it approved by Congress, which it was in the latest defense budget then getting the president to sign off and schedule it.
It all came tonight Friday afternoon in a historic White House celebration.
One high-ranking general who knows Puckett appreciates what Lock did on the colonel’s behalf.
“I have not spoken with John Lock for quite a few years,” said Gen. Scott Miller, commander of Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan. “Knowing who he is and who he was and his passion for seeing great valor recognized, I think we all ought to say thanks to John because you know Ralph would have never pushed this.”
In an Arlington, Va., hotel two days before he received the Medal of Honor, Col. Puckett told News 3, “We wouldn’t be here right now if it were not for John Lock.”