Biden to award 1st Medal of Honor to retired Georgia colonel

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will award his first Medal of Honor this week to a retired colonel for acts of bravery during the Korean War, the White House announced Wednesday.

Biden will bestow the nation’s most prestigious military honor on retired Col. Ralph Puckett Jr., who held Hill 205, a strategic position near Unsan, over two days in November 1950 while fighting off numerous attacks during the battle in which he endured multiple wounds.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in will attend the ceremony, the White House said. Moon will be in Washington for a summit with Biden at the White House on Friday.

Puckett’s Medal of Honor was made possible under the 2020 defense policy bill, which lifted a requirement that such awards be made within five years of the commission of the act of valor for which the individual is being recognized. The five-year limit was waived for Puckett and three other U.S. service members. Puckett’s nomination still had to be approved by the defense secretary and president.

Puckett, 94 and living in Columbus, Georgia, was a first lieutenant and commander of the 8th U.S. Army Ranger Company during those two days in late November 1950 when his unit launched a daytime offensive on Hill 205.

Enemy forces directed mortar, machine gun and small arms fire against Puckett and his men in return. At one point, Puckett intentionally ran across an open area multiple times to draw enemy fire to allow his Rangers to find and destroy enemy positions and seize Hill 205, the White House said.

Puckett was seriously wounded when mortar rounds landed in his foxhole, limiting his mobility. He ordered his men to evacuate and leave him behind, but they refused. While under enemy fire, the Rangers retrieved Puckett from the foxhole and brought him to the bottom of the hill, where he directed operations against the enemy.’

“First Lieutenant Puckett’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service,” the White House said in its announcement.

Puckett later spent about a year in combat in Vietnam as a member of the 101st Airborne Division.

In 1992, he was an inaugural inductee into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame.

Puckett lives in Columbus, Georgia, with Jean, his wife of 68 years.