Stories We Tell: Jeannie Puckett
(Bonus Installment 15)
Collected and arranged by
“When we got the call that Ralph was going to get the Medal of Honor, that just flipped our life upside down.
We got a call the day before from the White House saying that a high official would be calling us, and, of course, we knew it was going to be the president, but they didn’t say that, and [they asked if we] would be ready at five thirty.
So we are sitting on the sofa together with speakerphone, and the president comes on and says, ‘This is President Joe Biden, and I have the high honor and privilege of awarding you the nation’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor.’ And Ralph said, ‘Oh sir, I’m just so appreciative and honored and overwhelmed. And he said, ‘Oh no, I’m the one that’s honored. This is the first time I’ve ever gotten to do that.’ And he said, ‘Jill doesn’t like to come to these kind of things, but she wants to come to this.’ And then we talked. He was so easy to talk to, and then he said, ‘Well, I’m really looking forward to showing you around my new house.’
So we went, and it was sort of done in a hurry because while we had been waiting, we knew for over a year it was going to happen; everything kept being put off because of Covid. Everything was shut down. And then they found out that the president of [South] Korea was going to be visiting, and they decided to tie it in with the visit with the president from Korea, which was certainly to our benefit.
And so it was done within two weeks. They said, ‘If you can get here by this date, we will do it.’ And I said, ‘As long as we can get all of our family there.’ But they did. They all got there. And so, you know, the rest is history, and since we’ve returned, we are just amazed—he’s had over a thousand letters from people asking for photographs, or a coin, or something.
And I have answered every one of those. Although, when we went to the Medal of Honor reunion, I asked other recipients, and most of them said, ‘We don’t even answer those.’ And I said, ‘Well, they’re such beautiful letters. How can you not? School teachers who are trying to teach ethics, [etc.]. So anyway, well, because Ralph is not really able to—he can sign his name, but that’s about it—so I’m responding to all of them, and they continue to come in. Two a week, I would say. Now it’s slowed down, and so we’re just—things are plugging along at a slower pace.
I feel like I have been a personal secretary because he’s not capable of responding to the requests that he gets to speak at a school or, [though Ralph is already an Eagle Scout], [when] the Boy Scouts awarded him their highest [honor], and I have to deal with all of that.
It’s just . . . that’s taken me a lot more time than I realized, which is fine. I don’t mind doing it because he can’t do it, but it is taking over a big chunk of my life—that and his care—which I have good help that comes in, but he still wants me with him most of the time.
I’m sort of in a caretaker role right now.
[In regards to spouse caregivers feeling like they never have a safe space in which to say, ‘This is hard,’] I agree. I think it sounds selfish to say this, but it’s really not; what I’m realizing . . . what I’m realizing is that, for the few years that I have left to be mobile, I am now not able to do anything. I’m giving up a part of my life. So I think that’s a big part that people don’t want to admit—that it sounds selfish, but it’s really not—it’s just human nature.
Right now, there are things I’d like to be [able to do]. I’m still capable of traveling and going and doing, but I can’t do that because I can’t leave him.
And if I could find somebody I would trust, I still wouldn’t be comfortable because my mind would be here.”
Reflections from Amy:
Hero. The word gets thrown around a lot these days. Ralph Puckett is without question an American hero. His bravery and commitment to his country and his fellow soldiers deemed him worthy of our nation’s highest military honor. A few months ago, I watched this lifelong Ranger being pushed in his wheelchair down the hall at his retirement community. He smiled, stopping to hold the mail and whatever else was plopped into his lap. He laughed, and his eyes twinkled as Jeannie teased him about “taking it easy.” “Can I help?” I asked, extending a hand. “Oh no,” she smiled. “I can take it from here,” and off she went, rolling this American titan down the hallway. Almost 70 years of pushing along with Ralph, holding everyone else up, smiling through the tears, a deep loss and an even deeper love, inspiring others to do the same. You are right, Ralph Puckett. She is an American hero, indeed.
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