Ralph Puckett Jr., A True American Hero

July 25, 2021

On 21 May this year, Colonel Ralph Puckett Jr. was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Biden for actions taken during the Korean War in November 1950. He graduated from West Point in 1949. During the Korean War, he earned a Distinguished Service Cross for his heroic actions during the battle for Hill Two-Oh-Five about 60 miles south of the Chinese border. That award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor after the Defense Department included a recommendation to do so in the 2021 Defense Budget. After the Korean War, Puckett subsequently served in various challenging assignments to include as a battalion commander in the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, where he continued to lead from the frontlines of his unit and demonstrate the same courage and leadership he did during the Korean War. He was adored by his troops for always sharing their hardships and for his leadership in battle. He retired from the Army as a Colonel in 1971. This poem attempts to tell the story of some of his heroic character in meter and rhyme.

The Legend of Ralph Puckett Jr.

From Tifton, Georgia to a legend in his time,
Ralph Puckett sought glory nor fame.
To do his duty and safeguard his troops
Was Puckett’s only aim.

He was always “there” for his troops,
Whatever their hardships may be.
Cold when they were, wet with them too,
If miserable they, so was he.

When the Land of the Morning Calm
Was serene no more,
Lieutenant Puckett packed his gear
And headed off to war.

He volunteered for the Rangers,
The best of infantry,
And planned to join a unit trained,
But that was not to be.

He joined a Ranger unit alright
But there were no Rangers there.
Seemed the infantry soldiers
Were needed everywhere.

He was selected to command
The Eighth Ranger Company,
And find the soldiers he was to make
Into Ranger infantry.

So he pulled soldiers from where he could,
Truck drivers, clerks and occasional cook,
And molded them to a fighting force.
About two months was all it took.

He led his troops into the fray
Not far below the Yalu River.
He didn’t have to wait too long
Before they were expected to deliver.

The mission was to seize and hold
The hill called Two-Oh-Five.
His unit attacked and captured the hill.
Outnumbered would they survive?

Five times, in human waves,
The Chinese came on strong.
The Rangers repulsed each attack,
But weren’t sure for how long.

Puckett had prayed before the fight,
“God, let me take care of these men
And do not let any get killed.”
He knew the foe would attack again.

During the fight he exposed himself
To the determined enemy,
So they would fire at him
And his Rangers then could see
Where they were and take them out
With accurate counter fire,
But during the prolonged battle
He was wounded dire.

Two mortar rounds impacted
In Puckett’s cold foxhole.
Evacuation he refused,
But the wounds would take their toll.

With ammunition running low
And no supporting artillery,
Hand-to-hand combat
Was all that was left to be.

The sixth Chinese human wave
Accompanied the last attack.
Overwhelming numbers meant
The Rangers were finally forced back.

Unable to move himself,
He wanted his Rangers saved.
He ordered them to leave him there,
An order they disobeyed.

His Rangers never will forget
His sacrifice on that hill,
Nor Lieutenant Puckett’s
Bravery and will.

He led his men with courage,
Intelligence and care,
And with them on that hill,
He was always there.

Later in nineteen sixty-seven,
Puckett was in combat again.
A lieutenant colonel now
Leading a battalion of men.

Not back in headquarters,
But out there with his men,
Sharing their combat risks
Amidst the battle din.

Seventy-one long years
After that Korea cold
On Hill Two-Oh-Five,
The story was retold.

The Distinguished Service Cross
He won there on the day
Turned into the Medal of Honor
On the 21st of May.

As he received that medal
He stated once again,
He was not the hero,
The credit goes to his men.

A lifetime of service
And sacrifice sublime.
Colonel Ralph Puckett,
A legend in his time.

Sources: “A True American Hero” by Michelle Tan, Army, July 2021; “Colonel (RET.) Ralph Puckett Jr.”, www.army.mil/medalofhonor/puckett; “Destined for the Medal of Honor: The legend of Col. Ralph Puckett” by Stavros Atlamazoglou, Sandboxx News, June 14, 2021; “Medal of Honor: Colonel Ralph Puckett Jr.”  Video by Harry Lockley, Defense Visual Information Distribution System.

Note: For more stories in meter and rhyme of American Heroes see Patriotic Poems by Lee Austin, available through Amazon.

The 17-Year Cicada Cycle is Waning

June 8, 2021

Riding my bike this morning I noticed a distinct lessening of the cicada noise and far fewer of the insects crawling up the oaks I passed. The 17-year cycle has passed its peak in the area where I live. I witnessed one of the creatures struggling on the ground as it was dying, having helped ensure the survival of its species. That event inspired this poem.

The Dying Cicada

Riding my bike this morning
I noticed something odd,
Cicada noise diminished;
Dead-insect-littered sod.

I saw upon the ground
A cicada dying there.
It was struggling mightily
To get back in the air.

It was lying on its back,
Putting up a fight,
Consuming waning strength
To get itself upright.

When it got on its feet,
Hoping to gain flight
It couldn’t take to the air.
Its inevitable plight.

I felt a little pity
For the struggle it went through,
But then I realized
That’s what it’s here to do.

For that little insect,
And billions more as well,
Ensure that its species
Will continue long to dwell
Upon the face of the earth,
As long as it and others can
Make the cycle persevere
And follow Nature’s plan.

Then I realized,
As I walked back through my door,
That our lives will fruitful be
If we achieve what we’re here for.

Note: For more stories in meter and rhyme see Poetry That Rhymes by Lee Austin, available through Amazon.

The Seventeen-Year Cicadas

June 4, 2021

Brood X of the Seventeen-Year Cicadas have been invading Northern Virginia, West Virginia and much of Maryland for several weeks now. Their larval stage has been surviving underground, feeding on sap from tree roots, for the last 17 years. They emerge from the ground by the billions, molt into adults, and the males seek females to mate. Part of this process involves a cacophonous chorus sung by millions of males simultaneously in one of the loudest, most prolonged mating calls in nature. After mating, the females bore holes in the branches of trees and lay their eggs. When the nymphs hatch, they drop to the ground, burrow deep holes and spend the next 17 years waiting to emerge and begin the cycle again. I recommend watching the excellent short video on these cicadas’ life cycle, “The Return of the Cicadas” at http://video.com/66688653.

The Rise of the Undead

They came up from the underworld
With evil eyes, diablo red.
They occupied near everywhere,
These creatures of the living dead.

They crept and crawled upon the earth
With lust their wicked goal.
They screamed and screeched throughout the day.
They came to take their toll.

They put the fear of death in us.
They were everywhere to see.
We couldn’t get away from them.
They would not let us be.

They had been living underground,
Feeding on sap of trees,
Crawling through the grubby soil.
What kind of creatures, these?

In answer, an entomologist said,
“They’re harmless as can be.
They simply want to shed their skins
And climb the nearest tree.”

“They can’t bite and they can’t sting.
No need to perplex.
They’re not interested in us,
They’re only here for sex.”

“So banish your paranoia.
Sequester, now, all your fears.
They will leave us pretty soon.
You can relax seventeen years.”

Sources: “ Brood X Cicadas”, www.meadowsfarms.com; “Return of the Cicadas”, http://video.com/66688653.

Note: For more humorous stories in meter and rhyme see Humorous Poems by Lee Austin, available through Amazon.

Memorial Day 2021

May 31, 2021

Memorial Day is a day set aside in America to honor and remember those members of the Armed Forces who died in the service of the United States of America. This poem is dedicated to them.

Taps

Twenty-four simple notes;
A plaintive melody.
Twenty-four doleful sounds
That say so much to me.
They say, “A Patriot here
Knew Freedom isn’t free.
It takes heart and sacrifice
To ensure Liberty.”

They say, “A mother’s son
Or, perhaps, a daddy’s girl,
Took a sacred warrior oath
To go around the world,
If that’s what is required
To execute the task;
If that’s what the Freedom
Of America should ask.”

They say that this Patriot
Left family, home and friends
To be a tool for Liberty;
A means to Freedom’s ends.
They say, “Here lies a citizen
That saw a debt to pay,
So we can live out our lives
In Freedom every day.

It’s always sad to hear that tune,
Played so dolefully.
The grief on a loved-one’s face,
A painful thing to see.
I’m glad that this Patriot
Served for you and me,
And thankful for that precious gift,
So we can live here free.

Marine Corps Hero, Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Dyess

May 21, 2021

On this date in 1945, the USS Dyess was commissioned by the United States Navy in honor of Marine Corps Lt. Col. Aquilla James “Jimmie” Dyess, the only person to win both the Carnegie Medal for civilian heroism and the Medal of Honor for selfless acts of valor in combat. The following poem attempts to tell the story in meter and rhyme of this singularly unique man.

Jimmie Dyess, a Most Unusual Man

A most unusual man, indeed.
A man dedicated to others,
Who lived an unselfish personal creed,
Willing to sweat and bleed,
And give up his life for his brothers.

When he was a very young man,
His devotion was never in doubt
That he would do all that he can
To win every race that he ran.
He became an Eagle Scout.

When he was only nineteen,
On a South Carolina shore,
He came across a daunting scene,
Calling all the courage he could glean,
That Fate had positioned him for.

Two women in the raging surf
Had been swept far out to sea.
He mustered all the strength he was worth
To bring them both to coastal turf,
And answer their rescue plea.

He dove into the raging tide,
Employing all energy within,
As he successfully tried
To see that neither woman died,
And robbed the Reaper Grim.

For his uncommon fortitude
He won the Carnegie Award.
The heroic action he pursued,
Fueled by courage imbued,
Would not be ignored.

But his story does not there end,
For later in World War Two
He was called to action again
To lead his gallant men
And do what he’s destined to do.

A Lieutenant Colonel now,
In the United States Marines,
He set the example of how
To honor the warriors’ vow,
As he directed men and machines.

For he led them from the front,
Out ahead of his men,
To guide them in the hunt,
Willing to risk the brunt
Of machine guns’ deadly din.

On the first day of the fight
On Kwajalein atoll,
Before the fall of night,
Four of his men might
Not come back from their patrol.

They were trapped in enemy space,
By Japanese counterattack.
He led the rescue to that place,
Confronted the enemy face-to-face,
And brought all of his men back.

While directing the final attack
Against a stubborn foe,
Through the smoke and flack
He heard the staccato crack
That laid this hero low.

For his heroism that day,
As he had done before,
Leading Marines all the way
In the Marshall Islands’ fray,
The Medal of Honor his body bore.

They laid him down to rest
With the honors he deserved;
The cherished medal upon his chest.
He’ll be remembered among the best
Of the men that ever served.

He holds a spot above us all,
Alone in exclusive, admirable accord.
He soared above the brawl.
His presence still stands tall
With the Honor Medal and Carnegie Award,

Sources: Wikipedia, “USS Dyess (DD-880)”;  Medal of Honor Citations: Dyess, Aquilla, James, www/army.mil/medalofhonor; The 5th Annual Jimmie Dyess Symposium Program, Thursday, January 8, 2015, Augusta Museum of History; The Academy of Richmond County Hall of Fame inductee citation, “Lieutenant Colonel Aquilla James (Jimmie) Dyess”; DOD News, Medal of Honor Monday: Marine Corps Lt. Col. Aquilla James “Jimmie” Dyess, by Katie Lange, Feb. 1, 2021.

Note: For more stories of American heroes in meter and rhyme see Patriotic Poems by Lee Austin, available through Amazon.

Today is Armed Forces Day

May 15, 2021

This is the day set aside to honor the Members of the U.S. Armed Forces for their service and dedication to the defense of our Nation, the Constitution and our way of life. The following poem speaks to the standards of the American Soldier but it can be applied to all members of our excellent Military Services.

What it Means to be a Soldier

It means you’re a member of a team
That serves the nation true,
That always keeps the mission first
In everything you do.

When you are faced with defeat,
It means you won’t submit.
You’ll never leave a comrade down.
It means you’ll never quit.

It means you’re disciplined;
Physically and mentally tough.
You are best-can-be trained.
Adequate is never enough.

It means that you’re a warrior,
Proficient in your skills.
It means that you excel
In Soldier tasks and combat drills.

You maintain your arms, gear and self.
You’re an expert and a pro.
You’re part of a Band of Brothers
The timid will never know.

When Duty sounds the call
To leave loves and deploy
To face the Nation’s enemy,
You’ll engage them, and destroy.

It means you wrote a check that’s blank,
For hardship, danger and strife,
That can be cashed at any time,
Up to and including your life.

You’re a guardian of Freedom.
You’ll respond without delay
To defend this land we love,
At home or far away.

Note: This poem is based on The Soldier’s Creed, the standard by which all U.S.  Solders are expected to conduct themselves.

The Value of Work

April 14, 2021

Vitali Servutas is the CEO of AmeriShield, a Virginia Beach-based manufacturer of face masks and PPE products. He wrote an editorial in the Washington Times, published on 16 March 2021, extoling the virtues of buying from American companies rather than paying a little less to purchase goods from companies in places like China, with poor working conditions and low wages. In the editorial he acclaimed the value of work for Americans. This poem was inspired by and based on that part of his editorial.

Work

Work is the linkage of society.
Work unites those of every domain.
Citizens of endless variety,
With stature and pride to maintain,
Find their solace in work.

Work unites those with differing views.
It’s the mustard seed of dignity
That banishes the indolent blues
And helps dissuade malignity,
If effort we exert.


No lot of welfare can exceed
The comfort one gets from work.
It stimulates aspirations we need
To achieve, instead of shirk,
Our loftiest ambitions.

Americans set the example
For all the world to chase.
Work allows us to trample
The chains of each other place
Void of Freedom’s conditions.

Our diversity of endeavor
Is an example of Freedom displayed.
It releases us forever
From unreasoning fear and unfair trade.
Work is our hope of recovery.

Good U.S. jobs are no dream,
But we need the will to achieve.
Endeavor must be our theme
For the blessings that we receive.
Work is the essence of living free.

Note: For more poems about American character see Patriotic Poems by Lee Austin, available on Amazon.

Today is National Anthem Day

March 3, 2021

On this date in 1931 President Herbert Hoover signed a law making “The Star-Spangled Banner” the national anthem of the United States of America. We celebrate that every year as National Anthem Day. A friend of mine became a proud nationalized citizen yesterday. So many citizens by birth take our freedoms for granted. Naturalized citizens rarely do. I’m reminded of the naturalized citizens I know who deeply appreciate our liberty and those who have served in the military to protect it. That perspective inspired this short poem.

The Naturalized Citizen

There are citizens by birth,
And those who speak with patriotic voice.
Perhaps, the most intrinsic worth
Are those who are citizens by choice.

National Freedom Day

February 1, 2021

Today is National Freedom Day. It celebrates the day on February 1st, 1865 that President Lincoln signed a joint House and Senate resolution that later became the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, outlawing slavery. About 10 years ago, my best friend, Phil Park, suggested I write a poem with the famous graffiti from Khe Sanh: “…  for those who have fought for it, freedom has a special taste the protected will never know.” That phrase is usually attributed to an unknown Marine or soldier at Khe Sanh, though a Marine Lance Corporal named Tim Craft claims he asked a reporter to send a slightly different message back to the States. He says the message was, “For those that will fight for it…Freedom…has a flavor the protected shall never know.” (Italics mine.) That famous phrase addresses the ethos required to keep American free.  

The Taste of Freedom

“Freedom” is a simple word,
Comes easy from the lips,
Found in patriotic songs
And motion picture scripts.

You hear it spoken everywhere,
In dive and fine salon,
By people stationed high and low,
In denim and chiffon.

It’s used by politicians,
Up on Cap’tal Hill,
‘Specially when they’re trying hard
To pass some doubtful bill.

You hear it at the football games,
On college campus, too.
You hear it almost everywhere
In everything you do.

But do we truly realize
The value in that word,
So often uttered from our lips,
So ubiquitously heard?

You often hear folks comment
On Freedom’s pure, sweet taste,
But I have to wonder
On what that opinion’s based.

We say that we cherish it,
But if we really know
How valuable it surely is,
Why do we let it go?

Some folks far too willingly
Trade Freedom for Secure.
Do they know what Freedom means?
Are they ever sure?

Our Freedom is eternally bought
With our Patriot’s blood
Spilled on hot, desert sand
And in jungle mud;
Bought by gory sacrifice
In far-off lands and home,
In high mountain’s majesty
And on the ocean’s foam;
Bought on sun-lit battlefields
And in the dead of night;
Bought on deadly beaches
And in frozen winter’s fight.

How many of us are willing,
In air, on land and sea,
To fight for the meaning of the word?
To fight to keep us free?

Freedom has a special taste
That seems so apropos,
Savored by those who fought for it,
That the protected never know.

Sources: National Freedom Day – Wikipedia; http://www.togetherweteach.com/Sayings/TimCraftstory.htm.

Note: For more poems about patriots and patriotic events, see Patriotic Poems by Lee Austin, available through Amazon.

Martin Luther King Day-1990

January 18, 2021

In 1990 (if memory serves me well), the U.S. Army’s Personnel Command (now Human Resources Command) held a Martin Luther King Day celebration. A gospel singer was on the program. She was very good but I don’t recall her name. Before she sang, she told the audience that singing gospel, while not her occupation, was her testimony; her service to God. She encouraged anyone in the audience who may need someone to entertain at any function being planned to call her. She told us not to hesitate or be reluctant because, she said, ”…before you call, the answer is yes.”

 The Answer Is Yes

Are you near the end of your worldly rope?
Do you sink ever lower each day?
Have you thought about me but never cried out
For fear I would turn you away?

Well don’t hesitate to pick up the phone
And put my friendship to test.
Whatever it is that you want from me,
Before you call, the answer is yes.

Is it money you need or a place for the night
Or some help to get through the day?
Do you require material things,
Or someone to hear what you say?

I’m not far away, wherever I am,
I can help overcome your distress.
Wherever you are, just cry out for me.
Before you call, the answer is yes.

If I’m not the one who can help you today,
If another dimension you need,
If you’re lost in sin and you’re sinking fast,
Your thoughts ever worse than your deeds,
Then there’s a station that’s not of this earth
That provides eternal access.
God is waiting today to hear from you.
Before you call, the answer is yes.