Early on a cold November morning in Korea in 1950, an American soldier left the safety of his position to draw enemy fire away from his fellow Army Rangers.
That soldier, Ralph Puckett Jr., is an Eagle Scout.
“With full knowledge of the danger, 1st Lt. Puckett 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,” according to the official White House account. “Over the course of the counterattack, the Rangers were inspired and motivated by the extraordinary leadership and courageous example exhibited by 1st Lt. Puckett.”
For his conspicuous gallantry during the Korean War, Puckett has been awarded the Medal of Honor — our country’s most prestigious military award.
Puckett, 94, becomes at least the 12th Eagle Scout to receive the Medal of Honor, joining fellow Eagle Scouts who have demonstrated bravery during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the War in Afghanistan.
In a stroke of humility befitting an Eagle Scout, Puckett’s first reaction upon learning he had received the Medal of Honor was to ask, “Why all the fuss? Can’t they just mail it to me?”
“Col. Puckett, after 70 years, rather than mail it to you I would have walked it to you,” President Joe Biden said during the White House ceremony. “Your lifetime of service to our nation I think deserves a little bit of fuss.”
The Scout Oath ‘did the most’
Before he was thousands of miles from home, wounded by grenade fragments, outnumbered by Chinese forces and compelled to lead his fellow Rangers to safety, Puckett led his fellow Scouts.
“Of all the things about Scouting that influenced me, the Boy Scout Oath did the most,” Puckett said in 2013 at a Chattahoochee Council event during which he was presented the Distinguished Citizen Award. “Repeating the Scout Oath was probably the first time that I realized that I had a duty to contribute something to my country, to give something back to this great land in which we are privileged and fortunate to live.”
Puckett was born in Tifton, Ga., on Dec. 8, 1926. Growing up, Puckett says, he remembers seeing Scouts in uniform helping people cross the street safely during the holidays.
“The uniform caught my attention,” he told the crowd at the 2013 council event. “I wanted to be a Scout. When could I be old enough to become a Scout? That day was more important to me than getting a driver’s license when I became of age.”
‘Such interesting things’
Puckett further details his boyish impatience in his 2017 autobiography, Ranger: A Soldier’s Life.
“Tifton did not have any Cub Scouts,” he writes. “I looked forward to my 12th birthday with great anticipation. Scouts did such interesting things and wore good-looking uniforms.”
Once he buttoned up that uniform for the first time, Puckett flourished. He earned the Eagle Scout Award in just two years — the minimum amount of time required. Bronze and gold Eagle Palms soon followed.
After that, he became a patrol leader and senior patrol leader, gaining hands-on leadership experience that’s difficult for a teenager to find anywhere else.
“These responsibilities gave me my first taste of exercising leadership,” he writes.
In his 2013 speech, Puckett says that the Scout Oath has been a constant factor in his life for more than seven decades.
“Next to my parents, Scouting was the most influential action on me while I was a young man,” Puckett said. “That influence has affected me all my life.”
Juan Osorio, Scout Executive of the Chattahoochee Council, says the council is proud to call Puckett one of its members. The council is home to the U.S. Army’s Fort Benning, and its ties to the military stretch back for generations.
”Scouting and Fort Benning are part of the fabric of our local community in Columbus,” he says. “We are proud of our military heroes for all they do for our nation and our community. Col. Ralph Puckett is a shining example of the Scouting program and the military.”
Medal of Honor Eagle Scouts
At least 12 Eagle Scouts have received the Medal of Honor:
- Aquilla J. Dyess
- Robert Edward Femoyer
- Eugene B. Fluckey
- Walter Joseph Marm Jr.
- Thomas R. Norris
- Arlo L. Olson
- Mitchell Paige
- Ralph Puckett Jr.
- Ben L. Salomon
- Britt K. Slabinski
- Leo K. Thorsness
- Jay Zeamer Jr.
Thanks to Ed Palmer for the tip.