This week comes with sadness to hear of the passing of Colonel (Retired) Ralph Puckett- a Ranger, war hero, father, leader, and example of our nation’s best. A man who dedicated his life to service and community, a true legend and treasure of the United States, he is forever etched in the fabric of the country.

For those who didn’t know him, Col. Puckett was a West Point graduate who commissioned as an infantry officer into the Army in 1949. He earned his baptism by fire in the Korean War, leading a Ranger Infantry company. His exploits in this conflict are the ones of legends, his Rangers faced overwhelming enemy presences in nearly every engagement and in some of the harshest weather conditions our military has ever experienced. Col. Puckett distinguished himself not only as an incredible infantry fighter, but also as a man who always put the wellbeing of his men before himself.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest award for gallantry in battle, for his actions leading his company of 51 Rangers as it was attacked by several hundred Communist Chinese soldiers on hill 205. While ignoring his own extensive injuries during the battle, he continued to lead his men to prevail against the insurmountable odds. His career not yet complete, Col. Puckett continued to serve and deployed to Vietnam to lead troops once again into combat as one of the most combat tested officers in the United States Army. After these conflicts, Col. Puckett completed many groundbreaking assignments, including creating the Columbian Army’s “Lancero” school, which is their equivalent of the US Army Ranger School.

Since his retirement from the Army, Col. Puckett has spent years dedicating himself to the service to the Columbus, GA community and serving as the Honorary Colonel of the 75th Ranger Regiment. He was a mainstay at every graduation ceremony for RASP, Ranger School, retirement ceremony, change of command, and promotion. He maintained his dedication to the Rangers of the community by engaging in mentorship and bettering every soldier he encountered through his experiences, leadership, and care of others. Ever present in Columbus, he volunteered for veteran-related events, ensuring his influence was extended well beyond the Rangers to seek that all encounters benefitted from his life.

Some of Drexel Hamilton’s employees like to reflect on personal experiences and interactions with Col. Puckett:

“I still remember my first time meeting Col. Puckett perfectly well…

It was around 3:30am on Fort Moore (formerly Fort Benning), our entire company of Ranger School candidates were in a formation at the Malvesti Obstacle Course. It was just a tad above freezing temperatures and there was a rough combination of rain and sleet coming down, really setting the conditions for crawling through wet mud trenches and climbing over telephone poles. Then, at that time 90 years old, Retired Colonel Ralph Puckett was trooping the line in front of the men, taking in the wet/cold weather and wearing just a thin rain jacket, shouting “62 days! In 62 days, I will see you at graduation and you will become the finest soldiers our country has to offer! You will earn your Ranger tab!”. Seeing and hearing him was inspirational to say the least. This was a man who had dedicated his life to taking care of others, building the best team and soldier; one who could adapt to change, overcome what some consider physically impossible, learn at a rapid pace, and stop at nothing to achieve a mission. I saw him as the example that I wanted to be more like, and I saw him as a leader that I didn’t want to let down.

-Trevor Brunell”

“I remember the day I was given my tan beret, 35 other newly minted Rangers stood there on the Ranger Memorial on that December day. Amongst all of us stood Col. Puckett, who congratulated all of us individually and chiding us to ensure we always lived the Ranger Creed. As I progressed through my 21 years of Ranger service, he was present at every stage of my career. I had the duty during Ranger Rendezvous in 2007 to provide parking lot shuttle service to the families and friends attending. As I pull up to Col. Puckett’s car, he refused service because according to him he was still a Ranger and would “hump it” to the bleachers. Ever the gentlemen in the sweltering 100-degree Georgia summer, he ensured his wife was comfortable and began his 400-meter march as I drove the golf cart next to him. He was 80 years old at the time. He remembered me from my enlisted time and when I came back as a commissioned officer, Col. Puckett congratulated me and told me there is no greater honor than to lead Rangers. He was mostly right; but the real honor was being mentored and guided by a man as grounded and legendary as Col. Puckett. That was the greatest honor a Ranger could have.”

-James Grady

“I hadn’t eaten any breakfast nor drank any water before my Ranger School Graduation in March of 2001 – big mistake.  Standing at the rigid position of Parade Rest for what seemed like an eternity started to stifle the blood flow in my legs and I felt myself getting lightheaded.  I was about to embarrass myself and fall over right in front of the Honorary Colonel of the 75th Ranger Regiment – Col.(R) Ralph Puckett, let alone hundreds of family members and Rangers that were gathered to watch the graduation ceremony.  The unusually hot temperatures at Fort Moore after 62 freezing, cold days of Ranger School, coupled with my ongoing caloric deficit was causing me to fade in and out.  Col. Puckett saw me wavering.  On the verge of me passing out, Col. Puckett took-action.  With the guest speaker still talking, Col. Puckett broke protocol and initiated the graduation awards ceremony.  He moved forward and presented me an award named in his honor – the Colonel Ralph Puckett Officer Leadership Award.  He slapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “Hang in there son, almost there!”  That was the quiet shot of adrenaline that I desperately needed.  I saluted him.  The guest speaker concluded his remarks and the graduation ceremony was complete.  Years later I saw him from time to time – deployed forward to Iraq on Christmas (yes, he deployed at 80+ years old) or training with my company on a student patrol in the Regimental Selection and Training Company.  It was my honor that he remembered me from my Ranger School graduation, despite the embarrassing circumstance I impressed upon him.  One time I asked him if he knew how close I was to falling out that day and he simply quoted a line from the Ranger Creed, “I will never leave a fallen comrade…”  That said it all.  That was how he was, always.  Col. Puckett taught me a lot about leadership that graduation day.  Leaders are observant.  Leaders intervene outside of protocol.  Leaders take care of their men.  Leaders take action.

As Americans, we get caught up in following and honoring professional athletes, musical artists, and Hollywood Actors as our heroes.  I am honored to have shared some time on earth, walked next to, and looked up to a true hero, and living legend.  God Bless Col. Puckett; he left an indelible impression on so many of us.  Rangers Lead the Way!  One for the Airborne Ranger in Sky!”

-Matt Work

General (Ret) Jay Hendrix’s quote on the Army’s website about Col. Puckett is an incredibly strong testament to the type of person he was:

“He feared no man, he feared no situation and he feared no enemy. Clearly a unique, courageous Soldier in combat and even more importantly, in my opinion, Col. Puckett was an ultimate Infantry leader.”

He’s been an inspiration to thousands.

The Army did an incredible job with their biography/interview video of Col. Puckett during his Medal of Honor presentation in 2021 (link here). Please take a few minutes to check out the video and do some reading about this incredible American, soldier, leader, and father.