Posts tagged ‘Korean War’


The Army Ranger.

In recent weeks, the heroics of two men, one a soldier, the other a sailor, have come to our attention at 4GWAR Blog. To give each their due, we’ve decided to tell their stories separately in a two-part posting starting today May 27, 2020.

Korean War Hero Receives Medal of Honor 71 Years Later

President Joe Biden presents the Medal of Honor to retired Army Col. Ralph Puckett Jr. for conspicuous gallantry during the Korean War at a White House ceremony, May 21, 2021.

More than 70 years after he led a company-sized Army Ranger unit in an attack and holding action against hundreds of Chinese troops on a frozen Korean hilltop, retired Army Colonel Ralph Puckett Jr. was awarded the highest U.S. military decoration for bravery at a White House ceremony May 21.

President Joe Biden placed the Medal of Honor around the neck of Colonel Puckett for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty during combat actions at Hill 205 in the vicinity of Unsan, Korea, on November 25th and 26th, 1950.

“Today, we are hosting a true American hero and awarding an honor that is long overdue — more than 70 years overdue,” Biden said. After decades of lobbying by retired military — including soldiers in Puckett’s company — aware of what the young lieutenant did in Korea — the U.S. Army awarded him the Medal of Honor.

“Colonel, I’m humbled to have you here today,” Biden said. Noting — that when Puckett first learned of the award he said “Why all the fuss? Can’t they just mail it to me?” — the president said: “Colonel Puckett, after 70 years, rather than mail it to you, I would’ve walked it to you. You know, your lifetime of service to our nation, I think, deserves a little bit of fuss.”

In Korea, Puckett served as an infantryman and company commander with the Eighth Army Ranger Company, which he led during a daylight attack of Hill 205. While his men were pinned down and under enemy mortar, machine-gun and small-arms fire, he ran across an open area — three times — to draw enemy fire, thereby allowing his Rangers to locate and destroy the enemy machine gun, and to seize the hill, according to the Army.

Puckett inspired and motivated his 57-man company, in zero-degree weather at night, to repulse five assaults by a 500-man battalion supported by intense mortar barrages. Puckett called for artillery support, which decimated attacking enemy formations.

Puckett was initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on Hill 205 in 1951. He served in Vietnam in 1967, where he received a second Distinguished Service Cross. Throughout his career, he received two Silver Star medals (the nation’s third-highest award for bravery in combat); two Legion of Merit honors; two Bronze Star medals with V device for valor and five Purple Heart medals for wounds suffered in action. Then there’s ten Air Medals; the Army Commendation Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal, among other citations and awards.

Then an Army 1st lieutenant, Ralph Puckett Jr. went above and beyond the call of duty as the Eighth Army Ranger Company’s commanding officer during a multi-day operation in North Korea that started on November 25, 1950. He received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for military valor, 71 years later.

During his career, Puckett qualified as a master parachutist and glider trooper. He also earned the coveted U.S. Army Ranger Tab, the Army Combat Infantryman Badge and the Lancero Badge from Colombia.

As a recent graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, then-1st Lt. Puckett had limited infantry training and no combat experience when he was tasked with forming and leading a provisional Ranger company at Camp Drake, Japan, in August 1950. Ranger units were a fixture in American armies in the 18th and 19th centuries. The modern Rangers created as a special operations force during World War II, were disbanded after the war. However, 15 Ranger companies, including Puckett’s, were created during Korea.

Hundreds of soldiers volunteered for the unit, which allowed Puckett to select his men based on their weapons qualification scores, duty performance, athletic ability and personal desire to serve as an Army Ranger.

Puckett included several soldiers of color, just a few years after the long racially-segregated U.S. military began to integrate, according to the Washington Post.

The Eighth Army Ranger Company relocated to then-Pusan, Korea, where they began what was expected to be seven weeks of specialized training at the Eighth Army Ranger Training Center. Soldiers who could not meet the standard were cut from the company and replaced with allied Korean soldiers, known as KATUSAs.

After taking Hill 205, the Rangers came under heavy mortar and machine-gun fire as Chinese forces entered the Korean conflict against U.S. and United Nations forces. It would be the first of six battalion-sized attacks against Puckett’s unit.

For details on the battle, click here. Severely wounded, Puckett ordered his Rangers to leave him behind to ensure their safety. Two Rangers ignored that order, fought back against the Chinese force as they crested the hill and dragged Puckett down to safety. Privates First Class Billy G. Walls and David L. Pollock were each awarded the Silver Star medal for their own heroism in saving Puckett, the Post reported.

Tomorrow: TWO WARS, TWO HEROES Part II: The Navy Hospitalcorpsman

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress, or parade, uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York

May 27, 2021 at 5:40 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: Black History Month — African Americans in War Movies Part II

An Additional Four Movies to explore how Hollywood changed in its treatment of black actors and black history in films about war and life in the military.

RED BALL EXPRESS (Universal Pictures, 1952)

This film is on this list for all the wrong reasons. Puportedly, it’s the story of one of the little known Army operations involving a great many black soldiers during World War II, the eponymous Red Ball Express.” But there aren’t many blacks in the film.

Three months after D-Day, it was hard to supply Gen. George Patton’s hard-charging Third Army which was advancing as much as 80 miles a week. French railroads, as well as highways and bridges had been wrecked by Allied bombing. The only open seaport was in Normandy, far from the front.

To meet the need, thousands of trucks and hundreds of soldiers to drive them were pressed into service to deliver food, fuel, ammunition and other supplies to the front-line troops. The truck convoys had a dedicated route marked by round red signs — red balls — an old railroad term for high priority freight trains.

Almost 75 percent of Red Ball Express drivers were African Americans, who dealt with breakdowns, accidents, land mines, air attacks, bad roads and exhaustion on their 57-hour round trips.

But it’s hard to find many black actors in the movie. One of the few was a young Sidney Poitier (second from left in photo above) in just his third motion picture. Poitier’s character, Private Robertson, has a run-in with his C.O. and practically disappears for the rest of the movie. Nearly all the heroics are performed by white soldiers in the movie.

In a 1979 symposium at UCLA, the director, Bud Boetticher, revealed that the Defense Department pressured Universal Pictures to alter its portrayal of the tense race relations that existed at the time and to emphasize an upbeat, positive spirit, according to the IMBd website. Commenting on the studio’s whitewashing of history, Boetticher said, “The army wouldn’t let us tell the truth about the black troops because the government figured they were expendable. Our government didn’t want to admit they were kamikaze pilots. They figured if one out of ten trucks got through, they’d save Patton and his tanks.”

That sounds plausible when you see the official 1945 Army short film about the Red Ball Express, “Rolling to the Rhine,”. It only shows black drivers taking a break smoking and drinking coffee. This contemporary footage, which includes much of what’s shown in “Rolling to the Rhine,” shows blacks loading, driving and repairing trucks.

By The Way: Actor James Edwards (“Home of the Brave” and “The Steel Helmet’) was originally cast in the role of Robertson, but was fired during production when he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was replaced by Poitier, according to IMDb.

PORK CHOP HILL (United Artists, 1959)

While peace talks are underway at Panmunjom to end the Korean War, reluctant U.S. troops fight to retake a hill from Communist Chinese forces and then hold on to it despite rising casualties, in this film based on actual events. Directed by veteran war film maker Lewis Milestone (1930’s Best Picture Oscar winner “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “A Walk in the Sun” from 1945), racial tensions in the recently desegregated U.S. Army are a key element in the film.

Instead of white bigotry against Soldiers of color, the focus in “Pork Chop Hill” is on a Black soldier, Franklin, played by Woody Strode (in the photo above on the right), who doesn’t want to die fighting for Korea when he’s sure he wouldn’t die for the squalid conditions he lives in back home. After two confrontations, his company commander orders another Black Soldier, Corporal Jurgens (the ubiquitous James Edwards, same photo on the left), to keep an eye on Franklin and shoot him if he refuses to fight. A verbal confrontation between the two black men is equally tense.

SERGEANT RUTLEDGE (Warner Brothers, 1960)

This movie is the only one that strays from wars in the 20th Century, but it’s one of the first films, if not the first, to portray the black Buffalo Soldiers of the Old West. Directed by legendary film maker John Ford. It’s part Western, part crime thriller, part courtroom drama and part social justice advocacy.  

Woody Strode is Sergeant Braxton Rutledge, the black 1st Sergeant of the 9th Cavalry in the Jim Crow Army. At an Arizona Army post in the early 1880s, he is being tried by a court martial for the rape and murder of a white girl as well as for the murder of the girl’s father, who was the fort’s commanding officer. The story of these events is told in several flashbacks.

Strode gives a memorable performance as a Top Soldier who loves his regiment and fellow black troopers but knows he can’t get a fair trial because he’s in the worst kind of trouble a black man can get in — “white woman trouble.” While the film is another paean to the U.S. cavalry and an attempt at a fair telling of the heroism and professionalism of its black soldiers, this trailer from Warner Bros. makes it look more like a lurid thriller.


ALL THE YOUNG MEN (Columbia, 1960)

This Korean War drama is much like some of the others listed before, a small group of Marines must hold a farmhouse that controls a valley their battalion will pass through, despite relentless enemy attacks.

What sets it apart is that it takes place in winter (filmed in Glacier National Park) and the sergeant in charge is black. Also unusual for its time, Sidney Poitier’s name appears with co-star Alan Ladd’s above the title in the opening credits. In fact, the film was written as a star vehicle for Poitier, but the studio would only back it if a major white co-star could be found. Ladd (“This Gun for Hire,” “The Blue Dahlia” and “Shane”) apparently was the only one who would agree. In fact his Ladd Company co-produced the movie.

The Story:  Poitier plays a young sergeant unexpectedly placed in command of the survivors of an ambushed platoon. Not only does he have to win the trust and respect of the other men who are all white, but he has to contend with the contempt of one who is an out-and-out racist, and the second-guessing from Ladd’s character, a more experienced former top sergeant from the South who was was busted down to private.

As a side note, the extras hired to play North Korean troops in the film were actually Native Americans from the nearby Blackfeet Nation Reservation in Browning, Montana.


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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York

February 28, 2021 at 1:08 am 1 comment

SHAKO: Medal of Honor for Chaplain

Honoring Korean War Hero

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade)

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade)

An Army chaplain who comforted the wounded during one of the early battles of the Korean War and then elected to stay behind with them — facing certain capture or death — has been awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama at a White House ceremony this week.

Rev. Emil J. Kapuan, who died in that POW camp after inspiring his men and seeing to their medical and spiritual needs under the harshest conditions,  served with the 1st Cavalry Division.

Here is the citation for Father Kapuan’s Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for bravery by those in uniform:

“Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Calvary Division during combat operations against an armed enemy at Unsan, Korea, from November 1st to 2nd, 1950.

On November 1st, as Chinese Communist Forces viciously attacked friendly elements, Chaplain Kapaun calmly walked through withering enemy fire in order to provide comfort and medical aid to his comrades and rescue friendly wounded from no-man’s land.

Though the Americans successfully repelled the assault, they found themselves surrounded by the enemy.  Facing annihilation, the able-bodied men were ordered to evacuate.  However, Chaplain Kapaun, fully aware of his certain capture, elected to stay behind with the wounded.

After the enemy succeeded in breaking through the defense in the early morning hours of November 2nd, Chaplain Kapaun continually made rounds as hand-to-hand combat ensued.  As Chinese Communist Forces approached the American position, Chaplain Kapaun noticed an injured Chinese officer amongst the wounded and convinced him to negotiate the safe surrender of the American forces.

Shortly after his capture, Chaplain Kapaun, with complete disregard for his personal safety and unwavering resolve, bravely pushed aside an enemy soldier preparing to execute Sergeant First Class Herbert A. Miller.  Not only did Chaplain Kapaun’s gallantry save the life of Sergeant Miller, but also his unparalleled courage and leadership inspired all those present, including those who might have otherwise fled in panic to remain and fight the enemy until captured.

Chaplain Kapaun’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, the 1st Calvary Division and the United States Army.”

Several Korean War vets, including some who had survived the prison camp — thanks to Father Kapuan, were present at the White House award ceremony. The medal was presented to his nephew by Obama. Here is the transcript of that ceremony.

“He was a bright light in a dark, dark tunnel,” former POW Bob Wood told the Kansas City Star.  “He didn’t get the Medal of Honor for killing people or leading a brave charge, but for something even more terribly inspiring.”

The Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C. This summer marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, which Father Kapuan did not live to see. Photo:

The Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C. This summer marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, which Father Kapuan did not live to see.

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488px-Shako-p1000580SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

April 12, 2013 at 12:24 am Leave a comment


June 2023


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