Ralph Puckett was an acquaintance of mine. Nobody would call us best friends, but we did share some coffee over breakfast from time to time. He would also stop by my office on occasion to talk about army stuff. He was a retired army officer, and I was a chaplain.
He was about 30 years older than I was, so he served in a different era. I knew that he had fought in the Korean War, and that was of interest to me because I had lived in Korea for two years when I was a boy. One day, another soldier told me that Ralph had done some remarkable things in that war.
In November 1950, Ralph had led a group of men on a dangerous mission on top of a mountain. The enemy was all around, and in order to see where they were, he deliberately made himself visible so that they would fire at him. This would enable his men to know where to fire back. For two days the far numerically superior enemy tried to overrun their position. For the good of his men, Ralph continually exposed himself to the gunfire of the North Koreans, directing machine gun fire at himself. He was wounded twice, the second time so severely he could not move. He then ordered his men to leave him behind and withdraw to safety. He did not want them to be slowed down by carrying him. He feared that would place his men in greater danger. The men did withdraw but disobeyed his order and dragged him down the mountain with them.
Clearly, Ralph had saved the lives of many of his men. When I first heard that story, I didn’t understand why his exploits so many years ago were not more well known. For such feats of bravery, the army has a medal, called the Medal of Honor. It comes with many honors for the recipient, and I always felt it was an injustice that Ralph was not awarded one.
About 20 years after first meeting Ralph, I was living in another state. I was watching the news on TV, and they showed an old man receiving the Medal of Honor from President Biden. It was Ralph Puckett. He was 94 years old and had to use a walker to come up to the stage and have the medal hung around his neck. Over 70 years after saving the lives of his men, the nation was giving him the honor he deserved.
This was the right thing to do, but we are left asking why it took so long. Maybe it was because his superiors in Korea did not put in the proper paperwork. Maybe somebody back then was jealous of what he did and kept him from receiving such recognition. I did not know Ralph well enough to ask him if he was bitter for not receiving the medal he deserved back in 1950. I assume that after 70 years he simply felt that the army had forgotten what he had done on that hill in Korea so many years ago.
The Bible tells us that believers are soldiers for the Lord. He asks us to do things in service to Him. He promises that He will honor those who faithfully serve Him. Often times, in the NT, these honors are pictured as crowns.
I think it is easy for the believer to fall into the trap of thinking he or she is like Ralph Puckett. Maybe the believer feels that he will never be honored for what he does for the Lord. Such labors will be forgotten. With the passage of time, often involving decades, people certainly forget or believe that such work does not merit anything special. Subconsciously, there may even be a temptation to feel that Christ has more important things to concern Himself with than what we do with our lives.
Of course, that is not the case. The author of Hebrews tells his readers that, “God is not unjust to forget your work” that they had done for Him (Heb 6:10). The whole book of Hebrews is about rewards and honors in the future kingdom of God. These readers had suffered for the Lord, and they are reminded that God has not forgotten.
The paperwork has not been lost. Any petty jealousies will not prevent the Lord from rewarding His children. I was so glad to see Ralph getting honored by the President. Somebody remembered what he had done and tried to correct the wrong done to him. But it was also a little sad. Harry Truman should have been the one who gave him his medal. At 94 years old, he does not have much time to enjoy the honor given to him. He also lost 70 years of being recognized for what he did.
How wonderful to realize that it won’t be that way for believers at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Not only does the Lord remember, but the rewards given on that day will be enjoyed forever.