Legendary Army Ranger Dies

Legendary Army Ranger Dies

Man standing with soldiers
Photo by: U.S. Army/Sgt. Henry Villarama

Retired Col. Ralph Puckett, a legendary and revered Army Ranger who fought in Korea and Vietnam, died April 8. He was 97.

Puckett, an inaugural member of the Ranger Hall of Fame, was awarded the Medal of Honor in May 2021, more than 70 years after leading the 8th Army Ranger Company to capture a frozen hilltop near the Chinese border during the Korean War.

His heroic actions are told in a May 2022 graphic novel produced by the Association of the U.S. Army.

A native of Tifton, Georgia, Puckett enlisted in the Army in 1943 before being discharged two years later to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. He graduated in 1949 and quickly volunteered to serve in Korea.

On Nov. 25–26, 1950, Puckett, then a first lieutenant, received orders to secure Hill 205 near Unsan, Korea, and defend the critical position overlooking the Chongchon River, according to an account by the Army.

When the soldiers approached Hill 205, they came under heavy enemy fire, according to the White House in announcing Puckett’s Medal of Honor. “To obtain supporting fire, First Lieutenant Puckett mounted the closest tank, exposing himself to the deadly enemy fire,” the White House said. “Leaping from the tank, he shouted words of encouragement to his men and began to lead the Rangers in the attack.”

Almost immediately, one platoon of Rangers was pinned down by enemy fire. Puckett ran across an open area three times to draw enemy fire, allowing his fellow soldiers to find and destroy the enemy positions and seize Hill 205, according to the White House.

As the Rangers held the hill, enemy fighters launched a counterattack that lasted four hours.

Puckett continued to motivate his soldiers, and as a result, “five human wave attacks by a battalion-strength enemy element were repulsed,” the White House said.

Wounded by grenade fragments, Puckett refused to be evacuated and continued to direct artillery support and repeatedly abandoned positions of relative safety to check on his troops.

When the enemy launched its sixth attack, two mortar rounds landed in Puckett’s foxhole, inflicting serious wounds that limited his mobility. At the same time, Puckett realized the soldiers’ position was “untenable” because supporting artillery fire was unavailable.

“Knowing his men were in a precarious situation, First Lieutenant Puckett commanded the Rangers to leave him behind and evacuate the area,” according to the White House.

His Rangers refused and instead moved to evacuate Puckett.

Puckett would earn the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions that night in Korea—an award that is now upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

He deployed to Vietnam in 1967 with the 101st Airborne Division, earning a second Distinguished Service Cross and two Silver Stars for actions during the Vietnam War. He also received five Purple Hearts for wounds suffered in combat and two Bronze Star Medals with V device for valor, making him one of the most highly decorated soldiers in U.S. history.

Puckett retired from active duty in 1971 after 21 years of service. He remained active within the Army community and was an inaugural inductee into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 1992. He also served from 1996 to 2006 as the first Honorary Colonel of the 75th Ranger Regiment.

His book, Ranger: A Soldier’s Life, part of AUSA’s Book Program, tells the story of his service.