The White House will award retired Army Col. Ralph Puckett the Medal of Honor this Friday, upgrading the Distinguished Service Cross he received 70 years ago for his heroism during the Korean War.
White House officials announced the May 21 ceremony date on Wednesday after a few weeks of speculation about the honor. Earlier this month, Puckett spoke by phone with President Joe Biden about the decision, according to the Washington Post.
Among the attendees of the White House ceremony will be South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Administration officials call the 94-year-old war hero an example of gallantry and bravery for both countries.
Puckett’s award had been expected for a few months, since lawmakers included language allowing the medal upgrade in the fiscal 2021 defense authorization bill.
The former soldier is being honored for his heroism on Nov. 25 and 26 in 1950, where as a young lieutenant he led 51 Army Rangers and nine Korean soldiers to seize and later abandon a key hill overlooking the Chongchon River in what is now North Korea.
According to the White House, Puckett on multiple occasions exposed himself to enemy fire in an effort to help his men locate and destroy attacking forces’ positions.
As the hill was overrun by multiple waves of enemies, Puckett — severely injured from mortar fire — ordered his men to abandon him and retreat to safety. They ignored that, successfully evacuating him and most of the rest of the unit before launching another counterattack.
White House officials noted Puckett served in the military for 21 more years after that incident, and has been an active member of the military and veterans communities ever since.
The Medal of Honor will be the first awarded by Biden as president, although he took part in numerous similar ceremonies while he served as vice president from 2009 to 2017.
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.