Profiles of Valor: MSGT Ray Duke
Sergeant First Class Duke distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and outstanding courage above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy.
On July 27, in observance of the Korean Armistice Agreement in 1953, I will be flying to Georgia to pick up Korean War Medal of Honor recipient Col. Ralph Puckett (USA, Ret.), now 97 years old, and will accompany him for a commemorative event at the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee — the birthplace of the Medal of Honor. Connecting with recipients is one of the most humbling benefits of co-chairing the National Board.
Today, I profile another Korean War Medal of Honor recipient who grew up near Chattanooga: Master Sergeant Ray Eugene Duke.
MSGT Duke was born in 1923 in the small Appalachian town of Whitwell, Tennessee, just a stone’s throw from Chattanooga. He joined the Army during World War II. In 1950, he was assigned to Company C, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division.
On June 25, 1950, 10 divisions of the North Korean People’s Army (KPA) launched an attack into the Republic of Korea in the south. The North Koreans overwhelmed the Republic of Korea Army (ROK) and advanced south, preparing to conquer the entire nation. The United Nations ordered an intervention to prevent the conquest of South Korea. U.S. President Harry S. Truman sent ground forces to assist the ROK. The 24th Infantry Division was closest to Korea (stationed in Japan), and it was the first American division to respond. The 24th’s first mission was to “take the initial shock” of the North Korean assault, then try to slow its advance until more U.S. divisions could arrive.
The 21st Infantry Regiment led the way.
On November 3, 1950, the Red Chinese’ so-called People’s Liberation Army (PLA) entered the war. PLA attacks forced UN forces to retreat back across the Han River in January 1951. The 21st Regiment fought in the First United Nations Counteroffensive between February and March 1951, and the 24th Infantry Division participated in Operation Killer, pushing PLA forces north of the Han River. This operation was followed by Operation Ripper, which recaptured Seoul in March. In early April 1951, Operation Rugged and Operation Dauntless saw the division advance north of the 38th Parallel (DMZ) and reestablish itself along the previous line of defense.
In late April, the 21st Infantry regiment countered the Chinese Communist Forces Spring Offensive.
Upon being informed that several men in his platoon had been isolated by the enemy and were in the process of being overwhelmed, MSGT Duke led a small force in a daring assault that recaptured the area near Mugok from the enemy. In a follow-up attack by a large force of North Koreans, Duke was wounded by mortar fire. Disregarding his own serious injuries, he encouraged his men to hold their positions in spite of being subjected to extreme fire from the enemy. Wounded a second time, Duke received battlefield first aid and returned to his position. Duke repeatedly braved enemy fire to move amongst his men to instill confidence. During the action on April 26, he was wounded a third time in both legs, leaving him unable to walk. At that time, he urged his men to leave him and retreat to safety. As they left, all saw Ray pouring devastating fire into the North Korean line. With the position finally overrun, Ray Duke was captured. He died as a POW.
MSGT Duke distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and outstanding courage above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on March 19, 1954, in a ceremony with his family. There are more details in his full Medal of Honor citation.
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776
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