In 1950, as a “green” second lieutenant, Ralph Puckett formed, trained, and commanded the first Ranger Company to fight in Korea. A native of Tifton, Georgia, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve as he turned seventeen. He earned an appointment to the United States Military Academy, where he demonstrated a ” fighting spirit” as captain of the boxing team. Puckett originally planned to enter the Air Force, but upon reflection realized he intensely wanted to be an infantry paratrooper. To achieve his goal, he deliberately flunked the eye exam.
Graduating from West Point in 1949, he attended the Ground General School and the Infantry Officer Basic Course. While Puckett was in jump school, the Korean War began. He requested combat duty and was soon on his way to Japan. In August 1950, Puckett took charge of signal, ordnance, engineer, and quartermaster service troops mixed with a few infantrymen. In just 6½ weeks of extremely rigorous training, he turned this rag-tag collection into the Eighth Army Ranger Company. In late 1950, this first Ranger company in Korea was put to the test 30 miles south of the Yalu River. General MacArthur had ordered United Nations forces to push the “Reds” back into China.
On 25 November, Puckett’s men stormed Hill 205, overlooking the Chongchon River. From the top, they could see the “Reds” sitting around, smoking cigarettes, just waiting for darkness to fall over the frozen battlefield. Though wounded by hand-grenade fragments in the first enemy counter-attack, Puckett continued to command his Rangers as they repelled four more assaults by a 600-man Chinese battalion. On the sixth attack, Puckett was wounded a second and third time. He ordered his Rangers to withdraw and leave him. Moments later, two of his men fought their way back and dragged him down the hill. Of the 51 Rangers who began the attack only 20 were unscathed.
Following Korea, Puckett commanded the Mountain Ranger Division and later helped establish the Colombian Army Ranger School. In the Vietnam War, Puckett would again shed blood. Commanding an airborne battalion in the 101st Airborne Division, he was twice wounded, first by a grenade, and later by a mortar round. During his military career, Puckett earned 2 Distinguished Service Crosses, 2 Silver Stars, 5 Purple Hearts, and 10 Air Medals. A Master Parachutist, he earned wings from four countries.
In 1992, Colonel Puckett was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame along with such legendary men as John S. Mosby, Francis Marion, William O. Darby, and Frank D. Merrill. Retired in Columbus, Georgia, with his wife, Jean, he is the Honorary Colonel, 75th Ranger Regiment, an honorary instructor at Fort Benning, and frequently speaks at graduations and other ceremonies.