Politics

Biden to award first Medal of Honor of his presidency to Korean War vet, with South Korean President Moon set to join

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Key Points
  • President Joe Biden on Friday will present the Medal of Honor for the first time since he took office, honoring a U.S. veteran of the Korean War for his "conspicuous gallantry," the White House said.
  • South Korean President Moon Jae-In, who is visiting the White House that day for talks with Biden, is scheduled to attend the ceremony, according to the White House.
  • The recipient of the nation's highest military award, Col. Ralph Puckett Jr., is a resident of Columbus, Georgia, who served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War, the White House said in a press release.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks in the South Court Auditorium in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, May 12, 2021.
Oliver Contreras | Sipa | Bloomberg | Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Friday will present the Medal of Honor for the first time since he took office, honoring a U.S. veteran of the Korean War for his "conspicuous gallantry," the White House said.

South Korean President Moon Jae-In, who is visiting the White House that day for talks with Biden, is scheduled to attend the ceremony, according to the White House.

The recipient of the nation's highest military award, Col. Ralph Puckett Jr., is a resident of Columbus, Georgia, who served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War, the White House said in a press release.

Puckett "distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty" in Korea in November 1950 by leading a unit of Army Rangers into a harrowing daylight attack on an enemy hill, the White House said.

"To obtain supporting fire, First Lieutenant Puckett mounted the closest tank, exposing himself to the deadly enemy fire," the White House said. "Leaping from the tank, he shouted words of encouragement to his men and began to lead the Rangers in the attack."

When enemy fire pinned down a platoon, Puckett left the relative safety of his position and "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 course of the night, the enemy launched a counterattack which lasted four hours," the press release said, adding that Puckett's leadership motivated the Rangers throughout.

"As a result, five human wave attacks by a battalion strength enemy element were repulsed," the White House said.

Puckett was injured by grenade fragments during the first of those waves, "but he 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 distributed ammunition amongst the Rangers," the White House said.

On the sixth wave of attack, two mortar rounds landed in Puckett's foxhole, causing "grievous wounds," the press release said. "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 harassing 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," the White House said.

Puckett enlisted in the Army Enlisted Reserve Corps in 1943 and was discharged to the U.S. Military Academy in 1945. He served in the Korean War as a member of the 8th Army Ranger Company and in Vietnam as a member of the 101st Airborne Division.