Respect Through Insubordination

By Mike Deeter

We live in a time where words once set aside to describe those who accomplish great deeds are being used up like they have an expiration date. Where any man willing to throw on a dress, paint his face as gaudy as a baboon’s ass, and step out in public armed with a list of acceptable pronouns is hailed as a hero for his bravery. There was a time, not so long ago actually, where superlatives were reserved for individuals willing to grab cold hard steel and enter the arena in service of his fellow man, regardless of the risk to life or limb.

One such individual who embodied the spirit those words were meant to impart recently passed, leaving behind a lasting legacy in the Ranger community. He lived by an ethos and creed few are willing to follow and even fewer able to uphold. He was a legend in a community of men that can call themselves warriors without equivocation. His name was Colonel Ralph Puckett Jr.

Puckett first answered the call to arms in 1943, enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps Enlisted Reserve to become a pilot and kill Nazis in Europe. His plan would not come to fruition, though, due to the program being terminated.  Not a man to let bureaucracy stand between him and a good fight, he went on to graduate from West Point in 1949.

As a freshly minted second lieutenant, he was deployed to Japan where he immediately volunteered for duty with a new outfit being spun up to fight communists in Asia, the 8th Army Ranger Company. On learning all the platoon leader slots had been filled, he respectfully requested a position as a rifleman. The colonel in charge of forming the Ranger Company was so impressed with Puckett’s bearing he gave the young lieutenant its command.

Puckett and his 8th Army Ranger Company shipped off to Korea on October 11, 1950, where they were immediately put in the fight. Puckett and his men continuously proved their mettle during multiple successful raids on key enemy positions. On November 25, 1950, his Ranger Company was tasked with taking Hill 205, a tactically advantageous position overlooking the Ch’ongch’on River, as part of General MacArthur’s “Home-by-Christmas Offensive.”  

Puckett and his 51-man company immediately took fire from mortars and small arms as they crossed the 800-yard expanse of frozen rice paddies towards their objective, just south of Korea’s Northern border with China. The Rangers fought valiantly, and they won the day repelling the North Korean forces. Their fight to keep the strategic piece of real-estate was far from over, as their advance had kicked up a hornet’s nest.

Once in position, Puckett ordered his men to dig in and prepare for a fight with a battalion size element of Chinese regulars headed their way. His men did as ordered in the frozen ground as the 500-man enemy force closed in. Vastly outnumbered, Puckett knew that without effective artillery support they stood no chance of defending their position. While his men dug in, he coordinated the artillery for the upcoming engagement.

At 10 PM the Rangers on Hill 205 began receiving mortar fire ahead of the Chinese assault.  Puckett called in artillery on the enemy force, dangerously close at times, slowing the enemy advance as the Americans unleashed a barrage of small-arms fire on the commies. Puckett was injured during the initial wave by shrapnel from a Chinese grenade but remained in the fight. The Rangers under Puckett’s command were able to repel five successive assaults by the vastly overwhelming enemy force. 

Ahead of the enemy’s final push, Puckett was given word that the supporting artillery was being diverted and he was on his own, he stood fast. Enemy mortars rained down sending several pieces of shrapnel into Puckett during the fight, rendering him immobile and combat ineffective. The Ranger commander lay unable to move and barely conscious, as Hill 205 was overrun by the numerically superior Chinese forces. He ordered his men to retreat and leave him behind. It was an order they couldn’t obey, and under heavy enemy fire he was first carried, then dragged to where he and the rest of the wounded could be evacuated.   

The Ranger Company suffered a 70% casualty rate that day and the American forces were eventually driven back behind the 38th Parallel by the 300,000-man advancing Chinese Army. For his actions under enemy fire, Lieutenant Puckett was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. He spent a year recovering from his injuries but remained in the Army. He went on to command the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry (Airborne) in Vietnam in 1967, where he was awarded a second Distinguished Service Cross. 

In 1971 Colonel Puckett retired from the Army, but his service to the nation and his brothers in arms was far from over. In 1992 he was an inaugural inductee into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame. Later, he was given the distinction of being named the Honorary Colonel of the 75th Ranger Regiment, a position he held for 10 years and for which he was awarded the Distinguished Civilian Service Award

In April 2021 the Distinguished Service Cross he was awarded for his actions on Hill 205 was upgraded to The Congressional Medal of Honor, solidifying his legendary status amongst the men of the 75th Ranger Regiment. Colonel Puckett passed on April 8, 2024, leaving behind a lasting legacy etched into Ranger lore.

Medal of Honor Citation

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: First Lieutenant Ralph Puckett, Jr. distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty, while serving as the Commander, 8th U.S. Army Ranger Company during the period of 25 November 1950 through 26 November 1950, in Korea. As his unit commenced a daylight attack on Hill 205, the enemy directed mortar, machine gun, and small arms fire against the advancing force. To obtain supporting fire, First Lieutenant Puckett mounted the closest tank, exposing himself to the deadly enemy fire. Leaping from the tank, he shouted words of encouragement to his men and began to lead the Rangers in the attack. Almost immediately, enemy fire threatened the success of the attack by pinning down one platoon. Leaving the safety of his position with full knowledge of the danger, First Lieutenant 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. During the night, the enemy launched a counterattack that lasted four hours. Over the course of the counterattack, the Rangers were inspired and motivated by the extraordinary leadership and courageous example exhibited by First Lieutenant Puckett. As a result, five human wave attacks by a battalion strength enemy element were repulsed. During the first attack, First Lieutenant Puckett was wounded by grenade fragments, but refused evacuation and continually directed artillery support that decimated attacking enemy formations, repeatedly abandoned positions of relative safety to make his way from foxhole to foxhole to check the company’s perimeter, and distribute ammunition amongst the Rangers. When the enemy launched a sixth attack, it became clear to First Lieutenant Puckett that the position was untenable due to the unavailability of supporting artillery fire. During this attack, two enemy mortar rounds landed in his foxhole, inflicting grievous wounds which limited his mobility. Knowing his men were in a precarious situation, First Lieutenant Puckett commanded the Rangers to leave him behind and evacuate the area. Feeling a sense of duty to aid him, the Rangers refused the order and staged an effort to retrieve him from the foxhole while still under fire from the enemy. Ultimately, the Rangers succeeded in retrieving First Lieutenant Puckett and they moved to the bottom of the hill, where First Lieutenant Puckett 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.


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