By Vince LittleJune 13, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. (June 13, 2012) -- As Fort Benning bid farewell Friday to its retiring command sergeant major, leaders here decided it was an opportune time to put a longtime beloved local figure and legendary Army officer on the spot.
The secretary of the Army has granted a post request to redesignate a stretch of First Division and Dixie roads as Colonel Ralph Puckett Parkway. It runs from the end of Interstate 185 to Sightseeing Road -- essentially at the doorstep of the 75th Ranger Regiment headquarters and compound.
Command Sgt. Maj. Chris Hardy made the announcement following his retirement ceremony in Marshall Auditorium at McGinnis-Wickam Hall. After summoning Puckett to the stage, he and Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, now the former Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning commanding general, unveiled one of six signs that will be emplaced along the road.
"He is one of my personal heroes and one of our nation's treasures," Hardy said of Puckett. "This man is known across the Army and around the country. He's involved here almost every day. Everyone knows him, and he's a role model for each and every one of us."
Puckett has served the nation, Army and Soldiers for more than 50 years. He fought in Korea and Vietnam, earning the Distinguished Service Cross twice, two Silver Stars and five Purple Hearts among numerous military decorations.
Now 85, Puckett was an inaugural inductee into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 1992 and spent 12 years as the 75th Ranger Regiment's honorary colonel. The National Infantry Association presented him with the Doughboy Award in 2007.
"This is a surprise -- you better be happy it's a surprise because otherwise I'd have a prepared speech," he quipped about Friday's memorialization, drawing laughter from the audience.
"(Seriously), it's a great honor to be here. … I owe everything to my Soldiers and my friends. They're the ones who picked me up and carried me on their shoulders."
Puckett remains an active guest speaker for Infantry and Armor courses on Fort Benning, as well as graduation ceremonies. He also serves as a key liaison between the installation's command and regional civic and political leaders.
"You know that everything he has to say is true because it comes from experience," Hardy said. "He cares. He understands. … It is a valuable lesson and learning experience when you're talking to him."
The retired colonel praised the departing MCoE command sergeant major as the "best there is in our noncommissioned officer corps."
"I believe our noncommissioned officer corps is the best in the world, and they're what make our Army the best," Puckett said. "He is the top; he is the best. And I appreciate being part of your ceremony."
The Army typically doesn't name buildings, roads or other entities after war veterans still living. The current authority to do so has been used sparingly, according to approval memorandum sent by the Army secretary's office.
"We are thrilled to honor one of our Army's and country's heroes and wanted to make sure you were all aware of this recognition," Brown wrote in an email to former post commanding generals and Infantry and Armor commandants.
At the ceremony, Puckett gave all the credit to his wife, Jean.
"She's the wind beneath my wings," he said. "She's my hero -- I'd be nothing without her."