President Joe Biden presents the Medal of Honor to former Army Col. Ralph Puckett Jr. on May 21, 2021, during a ceremony at the White House.

President Joe Biden presents the Medal of Honor to former Army Col. Ralph Puckett Jr. on May 21, 2021, during a ceremony at the White House. (XaViera Masline/U.S. Army)

Retired Army Col. Ralph Puckett, one of America’s most decorated war veterans who died last week at his home in Columbus, Ga., will lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda later this month, congressional leaders announced Tuesday.

Puckett, 97, was a legendary Army Ranger who received the Medal of Honor in 2021 some seven decades after his Korean War battlefield heroics were credited with saving multiple lives in a fierce battle where he and his unit were outnumbered 10-1.

During his 22-year Army career, Puckett went on to serve in Vietnam and collected dozens of military honors, including the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, two Bronze Star Medals with combat “V” device for valor and five Purple Hearts, according to Army records.

He died April 8, and will lie in honor at the Capitol on April 29.

“The extraordinary valor of Col. Ralph Puckett Jr. represents the best of the 1.7 million Americans who left home to fight for freedom in the Korean War. He demonstrated tireless sacrifice for our country and his fellow Rangers and is an exceptional model for service members and civilians alike,” House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a joint statement. “To recognize Col. Puckett’s remarkable heroism and service, and the contributions of all Korean War veterans, it is our privilege to permit his remains to lie in honor in the Rotunda of the Capitol.”

Lying in honor is a rare final tribute to private American citizens. While dozens of past presidents, lawmakers and justices have lain in state, only six private citizens have previously lain in honor, according to the Architect of the Capitol. They include Hershel “Woody” Williams, who was the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, and civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks.

Puckett is also set to be honored Saturday in a public memorial service at the National Infantry Museum in his hometown of Columbus, just outside the gates of Fort Moore, Ga. Well into his 90s, Puckett spent much of his time at the Army infantry and armor training installation, where he was known to mentor young Rangers in the elite 75th Ranger Regiment.

His name was among the finalists considered when Congress mandated in 2020 that the Army change the installation’s name from Fort Benning, which honored a Confederate general. His name is honored in several locations around the west Georgia Army post, including on Col. Ralph Puckett Parkway, one of the installation’s main thoroughfares, which also connects Fort Moore with Columbus.

Puckett’s Medal of Honor was an upgrade of the Distinguished Service Cross that he received shortly after leading the Army’s 8th Ranger Company into battle in late 1950 at a location known as Hill 205 near Unsan.

Throughout the course of an hourslong battle with Chinese forces, Puckett repeatedly risked his life to draw enemy fire away from his fellow Rangers, called in artillery strikes, helped secure a perimeter and delivered ammunition to other soldiers as Chinese troops repeatedly assaulted the hill, according to his Medal of Honor citation. He suffered at least three serious wounds during the assaults, rendering him “unable to move” by its end. Despite ordering his troops to leave him, “fellow Rangers fought their way to his side and evacuated him to safety,” according to the Army.

After refusing a medical retirement, Puckett went on to complete Special Forces training before commanding a 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, where he earned another Distinguished Service Cross among other valor citations.

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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