U.S. President Joe Biden places the Medal of Honor on Army Col. Ralph Puckett during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Friday. Pool photo by Stefani Reynolds/UPI | License Photo
May 21 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden awarded the Medal of Honor to Col. Ralph Puckett Jr. in a White House ceremony Friday, calling the Korean War veteran "a true American hero."
South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended the event, the first time a foreign leader has done so.
"Your lifetime of service to our nation I think deserves a little bit of fuss," Biden told Puckett, 94, who questioned why his medal wasn't just mailed to him.
The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration that can be awarded in the United States, given to service members and veterans for acts of "conspicuous gallantry."
Puckett served as commander of the 8th U.S. Army Ranger Company and was honored Friday for his acts on Nov. 25-26, 1950.
Puckett's unit faced mortar, machine gun and small arms fire as it carried out a daylight attack on Hill 205, prompting Puckett to expose himself to deadly fire in order to mount the closest tank as he shouted words of encouragement to his men and led the Rangers in the attack.
As enemy fire successfully pinned down one platoon, Puckett intentionally ran across an open area three times in order to draw enemy fire and allow Rangers to locate and destroy the enemy positions and seize Hill 205.
"Puckett risked his life by running across the area to draw fire that would reveal the location of the nest," Biden said. "It took three runs intentionally exposing himself to the enemy to pick off the gunner."
During the attack, Puckett was injured by grenade fragments but continued to abandon positions of safety to travel between foxholes in order to check the company's perimeter and distribute ammunition.
He later sustained "grievous wounds" after two enemy mortar rounds landed in his foxhole and instructed the Rangers to leave him behind and evacuate the area, but the Rangers refused the order and successfully retrieved him from the foxhole.
Daniel Uria contributed to this report.
President Joe Biden (L) speaks while South Korea President Moon Jae-in listens during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Friday. Photo by Erin Scott/UPI | License Photo