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Medal of Honor recipient Col. Ralph Puckett to lie in honor in Capitol rotunda

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(WASHINGTON) — Ralph Puckett Jr., Colonel, United States Army, Retired. A name of honor and now for history.

Medal of Honor recipient Puckett’s cremated remains will lie in honor Monday afternoon at the center of the Capitol rotunda — one of the nation’s highest honors.

To lie in state or honor at the U.S. Capitol is a privilege reserved for the country’s most-distinguished citizens and leaders, including United States presidents and some of the country’s most-decorated veterans of war. Only seven citizens — Rosa Parks and Billy Graham and four U.S. Capitol police officers — have ever “lain in honor.”

The flags at the U.S. Capitol are flying at half-staff in tribute to Puckett, who was awarded the Medal of Honor on May 21, 2021, by President Joe Biden. Moon Jae-in, president of the Republic of Korea, joined the celebration in the East Room — becoming the first foreign leader to attend a Medal of Honor ceremony.

“Colonel Puckett is a true hero of the Korean War. With extraordinary valor and leadership, he completed missions until the very end, defending Hill 205 and fighting many more battles requiring equal valiance,” Moon said. “Without the sacrifice of veterans, including Colonel Puckett and the Eighth Army Ranger Company, freedom and democracy we enjoy today couldn’t have blossomed in Korea.”

Biden awarded Puckett the Medal of Honor, upgrading one of his Distinguished Service Crosses, for Puckett showing “extraordinary heroism and selflessness” in the Korean War more than 70 years ago, adding that the award finally gave Puckett’s “act of valor the full recognition they have always deserved.”

Puckett drew enemy fire and exposed himself multiple times to danger to allow his fellow Army Rangers to find and destroy enemy positions during a multi-wave attack.

“Today, we are hosting a true American hero and awarding an honor that is long overdue — more than 70 years overdue,” Biden said at the ceremony nearly three years ago. “Korea is sometimes called the ‘Forgotten War.’ But those men who were there under Lieutenant Puckett’s command — they’ll never forget his bravery. They never forget that he was right by their side throughout every minute of it.”

According to a military citation read at the ceremony, Puckett was awarded the Medal of Honor “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty” serving as the commander 8th U.S. Army Ranger Company during November 25-26,1950, in Korea.

As Puckett’s unit commenced a daylight offensive, the Korean enemy directed mortar, machine gun and small-arms fire against the advancing U.S. force, the citation read. Puckett mounted a tank, “exposing himself to the deadly enemy fire” before leaping from the tank, shouting “words of encouragement” to his men before leading the Rangers in the attack.

As enemy fire “threatened the success of the attack by pinning down” one U.S. platoon, Puckett “intentionally ran across an open area three times to draw enemy fire, thereby allowing the Rangers to locate and destroy the enemy positions and to seize Hill 205,” the citation noted.

A counterattack lasted hours, and though Puckett was wounded by grenade fragments early in the fight, he refused evacuation and continually directed artillery support that decimated attacking enemy formations.

During a sixth attack, two enemy mortar rounds landed in his foxhole, inflicting “grievous wounds” and limiting his mobility. Puckett issued a command to leave him behind and evacuate the area. But two Rangers refused the order and retrieved him from the foxhole — moving him out from under enemy fire to the bottom of the hill, where Puckett then “called for devastating artillery fire on the top of the enemy-controlled hill.”

“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 and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army,” the citation concluded.

Puckett later returned to service and deployed to combat in Vietnam, where he was again honored for his gallantry. Among his other awards are five Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars, three Legion of Merit awards, two Bronze Star medals and a second Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in Vietnam.

Puckett’s remains are scheduled to arrive at the Capitol at 2 p.m.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Mike Johnson are both expected to deliver remarks. Dr. Margaret Grun Kibben, chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, will offer an invocation and benediction, while the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” String Quartet and Staff Sergeant Esther Kang are slated to perform a musical selection.

Puckett was born in Tifton, Georgia, on Dec. 8, 1926 and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1949. He died April 8, 2024, at the age of 97 in Columbus, Georgia.

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