Remembering Some Key Elements of U.S. Military History #2

America has just recently celebrated the 80th anniversary of D-Day (June 6, 1944), the long awaited sea and air invasion of Nazi occupied Western Europe via the hostile killing zone beaches of Normandy, France.  Called “the largest (Allied combined) amphibious invasion in history.” Crossing through murderous German gun fire at Omaha beach, the task for American troops was to quickly get off that open beach and somehow get to the top of the surrounding cliffs where enemy gunfire, again, awaited.  That latter task fell to the Army Rangers.  Said former Supreme Allied Commander and former U.S. President, Dwight Eisenhower, in his speech there on the 40th Anniversary (June 6, 1984), of the Normandy landing, perhaps best remembered as “The Boys of Pointe du Hoc,” Eisenhower said, in part: “The American Rangers began to climb. (In the midst of killing gunfire from above) One by one the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of those cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe.  225 (Rangers) came here. After two days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.” A description of heroic, dogged commitment and valor, shared in the days ahead by all those courageous American troops who fought to return liberty to Western Europe.  Among U.S. forces, a reported total of 2,501 courageous Americans were killed on D-Day alone. Wrote one author in conclusion: “In retrospect, Eisenhower had made the decision he was born to make.  But by assuming full responsibility for D-Day, Eisenhower revealed himself a leader of character, competence, and moral courage in the commission of destiny.”

Those initial invasion warfighters were delivered to the beaches by innovative newly developed U.S. landing craft, known as the Higgins boats, invented and principally manufactured by American industrialist, Andrew Higgins.  His boats brought Allied fighting men to those five Normandy beaches, as well as delivering our fighting men to their treacherous amphibious landings throughout those seemingly unending Japanese-held Pacific Islands.  Said Dwight Eisenhower in a 1964 interview: “Higgins is the man who won the war for us.”  While it’s true that the Higgins boats made those close-in landings possible, it was actually the brave men they carried that effectively, and at great cost in lives, ultimately conquered the enemy on land in both theatres of the war. Twenty-thousand Higgins boats were manufactured during World War II, essential for the more feasible, still dangerous, invasion landings of both Army and Navy personnel, and eventually for heavy equipment, as well, throughout the war.

And then, 82-years ago, on June 7th (1942), out in the Pacific, the Battle of Midway concluded and proved to be “one of the most decisive U.S. victories in (our) war against Japan.” That American and Japanese carrier battle, in our naval campaign throughout the Central and Western Pacific, became “a major turning point (for us) in World War II.”

Hoping to follow up on its successful Pearl Harbor attack, Japan planned an aggressive air and sea attack on the U.S. base at Midway Island, located literally “midway” between Japan and the United States.  Fortunately for us, because of the great distances among the various ships of the Japanese fleet, their commanders had to communicate via radio, enabling U.S. code breakers to determine when and where Japan planned to attack, giving U.S. naval commanders a key preparation and positioning advantage.  During the ensuing 3-4 day all-out battle, all four Japanese carriers were knocked out of the fight by U.S. dive bombers.  America’s carrier, Yorktown, was severely damaged by Japan from the air and then sunk by a Japanese submarine.  In the end, Japan lost an estimated 3,000 men, including a reported 200 of its most experience pilots.

The U.S. victory at Midway “dashed Japan’s hope of neutralizing the U.S. as a naval power.”  And as a result of that significant victory, “Japan abandoning its plan to expand its reach in the Pacific and would remain on the defensive for the remainder of World War II.”

On February 23, 1945, in one of the most famous and revered photos in American history, military or otherwise, as six battle-weary United States Marines were pictured raising the American flag on the top of Mount Suribachi, while intense, deadly fighting continued down below, on the Pacific Island of Iwo Jima.  Wrote author Kerry Byrne: “The raw power of the (photo) instantly gripped a nation at war with Nazi Germany in Europe and Imperial Japan in the Pacific. It endures as the most powerful image of heroism in American history.”

In the battle to secure the key island of Iwo Jima, and the four days, alone, that it took for our Marines to reach the top of Mount Suribachi, an estimated 27,000 Marines and sailors were killed or wounded, including the eventual deaths of three out of the six Marines who so bravely raised the American flag on top of that 554-foot mountain. Twenty-seven Marines and Navy Corpsmen would go on to earn the Medal of Honor for their heroism on Iwo Jima.  Admiral Chester Nimitz, W.W. II commander of our Naval forces fighting throughout the Pacific, memorialized the traumatic American capture of Iwo Jima as a battle where “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”  Author James Bradley much later echoed the thoughts of Admiral Nimitz: “The flag raising on Iwo Jima became a symbol of…the highest ideals of a nation, of valor incarnate.”

And now, for this installment, reflecting heroism in a later war, some concliding words about a distinguished U.S. Army combat hero and proud son of Georgia, Colonel Ralph Puckett, Jr.  The excerpts that follow were drawn from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, about the life and career of Colonel Puckett.

Ralph Puckett, a native of Tifton, Georgia, entered the United States Military Academy in 1945.  Four years later, he was commissioned as an infantry second lieutenant and volunteered for assignment to the Army Rangers. On October 11, 1950, his Ranger Company entered the Korean War conducting both daytime and nighttime raids. Then, on November 25, 1950, he and his company captured Hill 205, a strategic point overlooking the Chongchon River (in a battle by the same name). When one of his platoons in that fight was pinned down, Puckett ran across an open area three times to draw enemy fire, helping his Rangers locate and eliminate enemy positions, enabling that Hill 205 capture.

During a subsequent nighttime Chinese counterattack, a total of six waves of Chinese fighters attacked the hill at length.  Puckett’s Rangers were outnumbered 10-to-1.  Puckett was forced to call in “danger close” artillery fire to protect his men.  When artillery support became unavailable due to Chinese attacks throughout the American lines, the Rangers, now overrun, had to resort to hand-to-hand combat. Having previously suffering a thigh wound, and now with additional wounds to his feet, buttocks and an arm, en the result of two mortars landing in his fox hole. Immobilized by his wounds, Puckett ordered his men to abandon their position and leave him behind (to certain capture or more likely death). Two of his Rangers ignored his order, shot three Chinese soldiers nearby, and brought Puckett down from the hill.  He was hospitalized for 11-months due to his wounds.  Puckett was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross.  His two Ranger rescuers received the Silver Star for gallantry.

Puckett would later go on to command Special Forces and 101st Airborne units in Vietnam. He was awarded a second Distinguished Service Cross for heroic leadership in 1967.  During a firefight there, he exposed himself to intense enemy fire, once again, and rallied his undermanned unit in order to defeat Viet Cong forces.

Puckett retired from the Army in 1971, after 22-years of active-duty service. He went on for many years to lead nationally known non-profit organizations. In 1992, he was an inaugural inductee into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame.  Then in 1998, he was named Ranger of the Year for the Ranger Infantry Companies of the Korean War.

Then, best and most deserving of all, in May, 2021, Colonel Ralph Puckett’s 1950 Distinguished Service Cross award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor in a White House presentation. Quoting from that ceremony: “The extraordinary valor of Col. Ralph Puckett, Jr. represents the best of the 1.7 million Americans who left home to fight for freedom in the Korean War. He demonstrated tireless sacrifice for our country and his fellow Rangers, and is an exceptional model for service members and civilians alike.”

Distinguished Army Ranger Ralph Puckett was the last surviving MOH recipient of the Korean War until his passing in Columbus, Georgia on April 8, 2024, at the age of 97. A truly outstanding Georgian, and a great, heroic American.

(For an even fuller recounting of the life and deeds of this incredible combat military leader, I’d encourage you to look up Colonel Puckett’s story, posted in Wikipedia on-line, from which I have excerpted and quoted here extensively.)


(Fact Sources: Eisenhower speech at Pointe du Hoc in 1984 via, Ronald Reagan, 6-6-24; Six Days in June via, Col. Cole Kingseed (ret.), 6-24; Battle of Midway decisive U.S. victory via, Erica Lamberg, 6-7-24; The Battle of Midway battle highlights via, Editors, 12-17-19; The historic flag-raising atop Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima via, Kerry J. Byrne, 2-23-24; Colonel Ralph Puckett’s heroic Army Ranger career via  Joint statement upon Colonel Puckett’s MOH presentation via, Leo Shane III, 4-16-24).