The last surviving Medal of Honor recipient of the Korean War has died

by Vern Evans

Ralph Puckett Jr., an Army veteran who was the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the Korean War, died on Monday at the age of 97.

Puckett was awarded the military’s highest honor by President Joe Biden in 2021, more than 70 years after his heroism overseas. In a statement, officials from the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation hailed him and the 146 other Medal of Honor recipients from that war as models for heroism and service.

“Col. Ralph Puckett was the last of a generation of extraordinary heroes,” said Chris Cassidy, president and CEO of the foundation. “His actions [on the battlefield] reverberated far beyond the Korean peninsula as his courage, sacrifice, commitment and patriotism have inspired Americans for over 70 years.”

WRBL reported that Puckett died at his home in Columbus, Georgia, in his sleep early Monday morning.

Puckett, who retired as a colonel, was a young lieutenant in 1950 when he led 51 Army Rangers and nine Korean soldiers across frozen rice paddies to seize a key hill overlooking the Ch’ongch’on River.

Army officials said Puckett repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire over nearly a day of fighting, first to commandeer a tank to provide cover for his men, then several more times to draw fire away from the positions they were trying to defend.

“Over the course of the counterattack, the Rangers were inspired and motivated by the extraordinary leadership and courageous example exhibited by [1st Lt.] Puckett,” the official Army citation of his actions stated. “As a result, five human wave attacks by a battalion strength enemy element were repulsed.”

Puckett was wounded several times by shrapnel and small arms fire. At one point, he ordered his men to leave him behind and retreat to a safer area. They managed to evacuate him before American artillery fire destroyed their overrun positions on the hill.

For his actions, Puckett was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Several of his men and colleagues lobbied for years to have that honor upgraded, a move which came in 2021.

Puckett earned a second Distinguished Service Cross for actions during the Vietnam War, as well as two Silver Stars during his 22-year military career.

Puckett’s death leaves 62 living recipients of the Medal of Honor, according to the foundation.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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