It’s not the top award he has received, since he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, second only to the Medal of Honor, twice, once for valor in Korea and once in Vietnam. Among his other combat medals are multiple Purple Hearts for his battle wounds. The honor retired Colonel Ralph Puckett received today, the Mary Reed Award for Service above Self, at the Rotary Club of Columbus was, however, the highest one that can be bestowed on a member of the club.
He was surprised that he had been selected and was visibly moved. He was being honored by his peers, peers that include not only some of the top business and professional leaders in Columbus, but also a number of retired Army generals, and the highest ranking veteran in the room, retired Secretary of the Army Howard “Bo” Callaway, who was a fellow classmate at West Point. Both were members of the class of 1949.
He was also surprised when his wife Jean was escorted to the dais, because he thought she was out of town. He said, “She is my hero, the wind beneath my wings. I would be nothing without her.”
This proven Army Ranger hero is no friend of war. I have heard him say more than once that war is insane and stupid, but there are times when they simply have to be fought to preserve our country’s freedoms. One of the freedoms, the one I put at the top of the list, freedom of speech, is courageously practiced by Col. Puckett. He is not happy that our soldiers are being deployed too long and too often, and that less than one percent of the country’s population is fighting our wars, while the rest of us are shopping in the malls. He made all of this clear in a talk to the Unitarian Univeralist Fellowship of Columbus. You can read my blog post about it at this link.
He was given the most thundering and prolonged standing ovations I have ever witnessed at a Rotary Club meeting. And, in my view, deserved them.
He continues to give his time freely and makes many trips to Fort Benning to support our soldiers. And when he is honored as he was today, he quotes President Eisenhower’s comment on humility: “Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends.”
I can’t think of a person more deserving of the Mary Reed Award than my fellow Rotarian Ralph Puckett.