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He Risked His Life For His Platoon In Korea. At 94, He Gets A Medal Of Honor

President Biden presents the Medal of Honor to retired U.S. Army Col. Ralph Puckett in the East Room of the White House on Friday.
President Biden presents the Medal of Honor to retired U.S. Army Col. Ralph Puckett in the East Room of the White House on Friday.

Updated May 21, 2021 at 2:54 PM ET

Col. Ralph Puckett, Jr. was honored at the White House on Friday and awarded the Medal of Honor for his acts of "conspicuous gallantry" during the Korean War. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is in town to conduct diplomatic talks with President Biden, attended the ceremony.

Now 94 years old, Puckett's distinction for his service in Korea goes back seven decades to when the retired Army ranger was a 24-year-old recent graduate of the U.S. Military Academy.

"Today we are hosting a true American hero, and awarding an honor that is long overdue. More than 70 years overdue," Biden said in his opening remarks.

"I'm incredibly proud to give Col. Ralph Puckett's act of valor the full recognition that he always deserved," he said. "Colonel, I'm humbled to have you here today. I really am."

In late November 1950, then-1st Lt. Puckett found himself and his platoon facing a barrage of enemy fire as his unit attempted to carry out a daylight attack, according to the White House. Faced with the advancing counterattack, Puckett emerged from his position and ran three times into an open area to attract the attention of Chinese forces, allowing his fellow soldiers to identify the other side and destroy their positions.

Later that night, Puckett again played a leading position in his battalion's offensive during a four-hour firefight that saw Puckett injured first by grenade fragments and later more grievously injured by enemy mortar, severely limiting his mobility.

Biden joked that when Puckett had first heard the White House was hosting a ceremony in his honor, the war veteran responded "Why all the fuss? Can't they just mail it to me?"

Biden said he would have sooner walked the medal to the colonel than ship it by mail.

"Your lifetime of service to our nation, I think, deserves a little bit of fuss," Biden said.

Standing without the aid of his wheelchair or a walker, Puckett stared solemnly ahead as Biden presented the most prestigious military honor.

The decoration joins several additional distinctions of Puckett's military service, including five purple hearts and his induction to the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame.

South Korean President Moon delivered brief remarks in his native Korean, which were translated to English by an interpreter: "I find it truly meaningful to join the Medal of Honor ceremony," Moon said. "Colonel Puckett is a true hero of the Korean War."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

South Korea's President Moon Jae-in and President Biden pose with Col. Ralph Puckett and his family during a Medal of honor ceremony at the White House on Friday.
Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images
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South Korea's President Moon Jae-in and President Biden pose with Col. Ralph Puckett and his family during a Medal of honor ceremony at the White House on Friday.