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Salute to Georgia’s latest Medal of Honor recipient

Webster’s Dictionary defines a hero as, “A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life.” With Noah Webster’s concurrence I would add, “and doesn’t talk about it.” 

That would aptly describe 94-year-old retired Col. Ralph Puckett, of Columbus, , the latest recipient of the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration given to a member of the armed forces which was presented to him in May by Pres. Joe Biden in the Oval Office.

In our nation’s history, of the 40 million Americans who have served in the military, slightly more than 3,400 – less than 1 percent – have been awarded the Medal of Honor since its inception in 1862.

In 1950, during a ferocious battle in Korea then-1st Lt. Ralph Puckett exposed himself to enemy machine guns to enable his Army Rangers to identify their locations. That evening, he and his 51-man company defended themselves for hours against hundreds of Chinese soldiers who were attacking their position.

Puckett repeatedly left the safety of his foxhole to spot the enemy and direct artillery fire, sometimes ordering shells dropped dangerously close to his own position to keep the Chinese at bay.

In doing so, he was wounded several times and eventually unable to move. Fearing they were about to be overrun, Lt. Puckett ordered his men to fall back and leave him behind so as not to slow them down. His fellow Rangers ignored his order and carried him to safety.

Offered a medical discharge for his wounds, Puckett refused and continued to serve his country, including a combat tour in Vietnam where his valor earned him a Distinguished Service Cross and two Silver Stars before retiring from active duty in 1971.

So, why after 70 years are we just now getting around to recognizing Col. Ralph Puckett with the Medal of Honor? Because he never told anyone about the experience. He was just doing his job. It took others to recognize his feats of courage and to make the case through the military chain of command that he was deserving of the singular honor. Had they not, we would be writing on another subject today.

Thank you, Col. Puckett for your service and for reminding us that there are still some honest-to-God heroes among us today.

It took 70 years to find out but it was worth the wait.