President Joe Biden awarded his first Medal of Honor on Friday to a 94-year-old retired Army colonel for bravery under enemy fire more than 70 years ago in the Korean War.
It took a policy change for retired Col. Ralph Puckett Jr. to receive the military’s highest honor. The 2020 defense policy bill removed a requirement that such awards be given within five years of a valorous act.
“Today we are hosting a true American hero and awarding an honor that is long overdue — more than 70 years overdue,” Biden said during the White House ceremony. “Though I understand that your first response to us hosting this event was to ask why all the fuss.”
Biden said Puckett had suggested they just mail him the award.
“Rather than mail it to you, I would’ve walked it to you,” Biden said, adding that the retired Ranger indeed deserved “a little bit of fuss.”
Puckett was a first lieutenant and commander of the 8th U.S. Army Ranger Company in late November 1950 when his unit launched an offensive to secure a strategically important hill near Unsan. Enemy forces directed mortar, machine gun and small arms fire against Puckett and his men.
At one point, Puckett sprinted across an open area multiple times to draw enemy fire to allow his Rangers to find and destroy enemy positions, the White House said.
Puckett was seriously wounded when mortar rounds landed in his foxhole. He ordered his men to evacuate and leave him behind, but they refused.
“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.
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.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in also attended the ceremony ahead of a summit with Biden, making him the first foreign leader to do so.
“Without the sacrifice of veterans, including Col. Puckett and the 8th Army Ranger Company, the freedom and democracy we enjoy today couldn’t have blossomed in Korea,” Moon said.
Puckett lives in Columbus, Georgia, with Jean, his wife of 68 years.
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
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