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New Clashes in Jerusalem Just Hours after Ceasefire Agreement; 12 to 15-Year-Olds Made Up Nearly 25 Percent of Past Week's Vaccinations; Biden Awards Medal of Honor to 94-Year-Old Korean War Veteran. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 21, 2021 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: I have been told that. I have been told that. All right, thank you guys for coming in.

Thanks for joining us in Inside Politics. Have a fantastic weekend. We'll see you back here on Monday. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Ana Cabrera in New York, thank you for being with me on this Friday. Happy Friday to you.

Any minute now, President Biden is expected to award the Medal of Honor to a Korean War veteran. This will be the first time he has done so as president, and he'll do it alongside the president of South Korea. And this will be the first time a foreign leader has ever participated in such a ceremony. We will bring it to you live, just as soon as it gets under way.

And while we wait, we are closely monitoring the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. It is holding for now but it is fragile. Earlier today, Israeli police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at the Al Aqsa compound. This is n Jerusalem. And police say they were responding to a riot at this holy site.

Let's go to the ground. CNN's Hadas Gold is in Jerusalem. And, Hadas, is this ceasefire expected to hold, because it doesn't seem as though any of the underlying issues that led to this outbreak of violence have been resolved?

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a great point, Ana. So far, since that ceasefire came into effect, 2:00 A.M. local time, overnight, it has held in the sense that there haven't been rockets fired into Gaza into Israel and there haven't been Israeli military airstrikes into Gaza. People in Gaza now coming out starting to assess the damage, people in Israel starting to feel as though they can go about their lives at the fear of rockets being launched.

But that doesn't necessarily mean that things are completely calm. Earlier in Jerusalem, and at the Al Aqsa, compound, also known as the noble sanctuary or the temple mound, it's a place very holy to both Muslims and Jews.

There were, at first, thousands of Palestinians there, they were protesting, they were chanting, waving both Palestinian flags as well as flags of Hamas, the green flags of Hamas, as well as flags of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. They were chanting in support of Gaza both for the ceasefire but also for the campaign that preceded the ceasefire.

And then, at some point, there was a violent confrontation with Israeli police, police firing stun grenades and rubber bullets, as well as forcibly removing people from the compound, including journalists, forcibly removing them from the compound. And the police say that they were responding to a riot. They say that they were responding to people throwing stones and a Molotov cocktail at them, and things did calm down, although the Palestinian Red Crescent said 20 people were injured and Israeli police say 16 were arrested.

However, things did seem to calm down. I was up near the compound earlier today. Things were calm there. But it just goes to show you that although there is a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, a lot of these tensions that were part of the reason why this conflict flared up the way it did still exists, these tensions in Jerusalem, these tensions over Israeli police presence at the Al Aqsa compound, the tensions in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, where several Palestinian families face a possible eviction.

Those were the reasons why militants in Gaza said they fired those rockets towards Jerusalem that really helped kick off this conflict over the past 11 or 12 days or so, and those tensions, as we saw today earlier, are still very much alive, they still very much a tinderbox here that could catch flames any moment now.

And the question will be, what will fundamentally change as we are getting these diplomatic efforts under way to continue the peace? We know Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to come here and speak to all the countries involved here. But what will actually change that will fundamentally change the situation on the ground. Ana?

CABRERA: Okay. Thank you very much for that update, Hadas Gold live from Jerusalem for us.

Back here in New York, multiple people were arrested last night in clashes between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protesters. And now hate crime task force is investigating a gang assault on a Jewish man in Times Square near where these clashes took place.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is in New York. Brynn, what are you learning about this attack?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ana. Well, we just learned from sources that at least one person has been arrested in connection with this attack of a 29-year-old Jewish man. Police sources are telling us that this man was coming here to this area in Times Square for a protest against the conflict in the Middle East and he's wearing a yarmulke, and a group of people came up to him and started hitting him, assaulting him, pepper spraying him, and yelling F Jews, F Israel. So that's why the hate crimes unit is investigating this specific attack.

But we are seeing a number of incidents stemming from the clashes that we're seeing here on American streets in regards to what's happening in the Middle East. Just down the street from where we are in the Diamond District in New York City, fireworks were thrown from a vehicle.


Police say -- sources are telling us that that was a group of Palestinian -- pro-Palestinian convoy of cars throwing fireworks onto the street, so a number of incidents.

But, of course, that's just here in New York City. We talked earlier this week about an incident that happened in L.A., where a group of people went up to individuals dining at a sushi restaurant, asking, blatantly, are you Jewish?

So there're just been a number of incidents all across the United States in American cities that the ADL says has really boosted with what we're seeing in the Middle East. Actually, Jonathan Greenblatt was talking to Kate earlier on her show saying that the number of anti-Semitic attacks just within the past week have doubled. So, certainly, we're seeing this ticking up intensity in these incidents.

And also just to mention, when we come back here to New York now, we have the governor saying that he wants the state police hate crimes unit to now investigate the incident here because, of course, five or six more individuals related to that specific attack that we're talking about are still out there. Ana?

CABRERA: It is unacceptable. It's something to continue to shine a light on. Brynn Gingras, thank you for your reporting.

Meantime, we're ending this week with some mixed news on the COVID vaccination front. First, the good news. The U.S. is seeing a surge in vaccinations among young people. The not so good news is this surge among the young is coming as vaccination rates of really all age groups and across all age groups in the U.S., are dropping, down nearly 50 percent from a high in mid-April.

CNN's Elizabeth Cohen is joining us. Elizabeth, 12 to 15-year-olds have only been eligible for this vaccine for a couple of weeks but this is an encouraging start for that age group.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is. I think what it's showing again, as we saw with adults, that there's a group of Americans that are very enthusiastic about getting the COVID- 19 vaccines, and apparently for their children as well.

So let's take a look at some of these numbers. What the data shows is that nearly 1 in 11 adolescents, ages 12 to 15 in the U.S., have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Nearly 1 in 11, as you said, they just got permission to get it, so that's pretty amazing.

So when you take a look overall at who is getting vaccines in the U.S., 24 percent of those who have received first doses this past week were in this age group and that age group represents 5 percent of the U.S. population. So, as you can see, they are getting vaccines disproportionate to their population. Ana?

CABRERA: What are you learning from this new study we are getting word on, on how mask requirements, and ventilation in schools, have impacted COVID cases?

COHEN: It's interesting, Ana. There have been all these requirements throughout the pandemic about what schools are supposed to do, and the question has been, does it help. And so researchers looked at more than 160 K through 5 schools, public schools in Georgia. And let's take at what they found. They found that when teachers and staff were required to wear masks, the rates of COVID were 37 percent lower. That is very clear evidence that that really does seem to work. When they improved ventilation, rates of COVID were 39 percent lower.

This last one is interesting. When they required masks of students, they did not see a statistically significant difference. And they're thinking, gee, if it didn't matter whether or not students wore masks, that could be for a couple of reasons. One of them might be maybe children aren't that great at getting COVID and spreading it. Maybe adults are better at that. But on the other hand, maybe it's that the students didn't listen and weren't wearing masks anyhow, even though they weren't required. Ana?

CABRERA: That's so interesting as a parent myself, that one really caught my eye.


CABRERA: I like this next idea because it's a clever attempt to increase the rate of people, especially in the targeted age group right now to get vaccines. The White House partnering with dating apps to encourage these COVID vaccinations, how does it work?

COHEN: The way that it works is that you can see on the apps whether or not someone is vaccinated, and there seems to be some evidence that if you are vaccinated, you're going to -- well, I'll try not to be too gross here, you might get some action, you -- people might like you better if you've been vaccinated. So, there you are.

CABRERA: Well, at least you can know if that's important to you.

COHEN: That is important.

CABRERA: If you're courting somebody who has the vaccine and make your plans accordingly, if you're going to eat indoors, for example. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you very much.

COHEN: Thanks. CABRERA: I want to bring in Dr. Megan Ranney now. She is an emergency room physician. Dr. Ranney, a quarter of the vaccines administered this past week went to 12 to 15-year-olds. Does that surprise you?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY: It doesn't. We know that there are early adopters across every part of behavior in American life. They are the folks who are the first to run out and buy the new iPhone, they're the people who are the first to go out and get the video game. Well, we're finding they are the Americans who are the first to go out and get a vaccine when it's eligible for their age group.


And so I think what we're seeing right now is the kids who are really excited about getting vaccinated and the parents who are really excited about getting vaccinated.

I suspect that that percentage will drop in the weeks to come as those early adopters have had their chance to get a vaccine. And then we're going to be in the same ground game for teens that were already in for older adults, where it's harder work to get vaccines in arms but necessary work nonetheless.

CABRERA: There are still ongoing questions about, you know, what comes next, when it comes to booster shots, for example. And Dr. Fauci is saying it is likely, but the timing is still the big question. When will we know what the right time is?

RANNEY: So there're two parts about booster shots. So the first question is, do we need booster shots the way that we need booster shots for like measles, mumps and rubella or for tetanus. Is it that the vaccine efficacy wanes over time? We just don't know the answer to that yet. Every time we've done follow-ups of people who have gotten vaccines in arms, it's shown that the vaccines still work. So there's no date yet where we would need a booster shot for that reason.

The other reason we might need a booster shot is if the current vaccines are less effective against new variants. This is what we see with the flu vaccine, right, where we get new flu vaccines every year because the type of flu changes, so last year's flu vaccine doesn't protect you against this year's flu. Again, so far the vaccines work against all the variants that are out there in the world, but that would be the second reason we might get a booster, is to protect us against one of those new variants, again, still to be determined.

I am hopeful, but not confident, that the vaccines will keep working against variants, but the biggest thing there, Ana, is, again, just getting more people vaccinated so that the virus stops mutating.

CABRERA: That makes a lot of sense. There was an interesting study this week on elderly people in the U.K. delaying the second shot of the Pfizer vaccine from three weeks to three months. And it turned out they had it even stronger antibody response with the delayed second dose. So were we too quick to rush back-to-back doses? RANNEY: We operated based off of the science that we had. You know, that's how we do medication approvals in the United States, we do clinical trials, the FDA reviews them and we approve drugs or vaccines based off of those clinical trials. It was totally right to follow the science here in the United States.

England made a different decision, and I and others said well, heck, they're doing a natural experiment to see if delaying the doses would change immunity. So I don't think that we were too quick, but I think that this may change our protocols going forward if it is confirmed in future trials.

And then, of course, the question is what about for our younger age groups, does a delay in doses help them too? Once again, COVID is a new virus, the vaccines are amazing, but we're going to keep discovering things as time goes on.

CABRERA: Indeed, and we will keep talking. Thank you so much, Dr. Megan Ranney, it's nice to see you, Happy Friday to you.

RANNEY: Happy Friday to you too, Ana.

CABRERA: Thank you.

Let's go live now to the White House, and we are just watching this Medal of Honor ceremony about to get under way at the White House with the president, as well as the leader of South Korea taking part in this ceremony to honor a Korean War veteran. Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States, accompanied by Medal of Honor recipient Colonel Ralph Puckett Jr., United States Army retired.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, please join me as we mark this very special occasion in a word of prayer.

Almighty God, the author of liberty, our sustainer, protector and guide, hear our prayer and bless this ceremony with your presence as we honor Colonel Ralph Puckett Jr., a courageous warrior, husband, father and friend who, for 70 years, has led the way from his actions with the Rangers on Hill 205, while defending the freedom of the people of Korea, and throughout his life, Ralph has continued to serve the Army and Ranger Regiment as an example of leadership of character and commitment for others to follow.


Lord, thank you for Colonel Puckett, a servant leader whose actions exemplify the prestige, honor and highest decor of the Ranger Regiment. In the crucible conflict, he selflessly put his comrade's lives before his own. Today, as he accepts our nation's highest military honor for value, may his words of encouragement spoken to many over the years continue to ring true. Be proud, but never satisfied.

Bless Ralph, his loving and devoted wife of 68 years, Jean, family, fellow Rangers, comrades and others today in spirit. Lord, let Ralph's life, legacy in this very medal that is placed around his neck inspire us all in challenging times to lead the way.

We thank you for the blessings of freedom and those who served to preserve and defend it. It is in your majestic and mighty name I pray, amen.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the White House. President Moon, it's a real honor to have you here participating in this ceremony today. The strength and alliance between the United States, the Republic of Korea, was born out of the courage, determination, sacrifice, and of the Korean troops fighting shoulder to shoulder with American troops. And having you here today is an important recognition of all that our nation has achieved together, both of them in the decades since.

And I'm joined by my wife, Jill, who is excited about this event as I am, the vice president and the second gentleman are here as well, our secretary of defense, vice chairman and Joint Chiefs of Staff, the officials of the United States Army, as well as several members of Congress, Representative Ferguson, Representative Crow and Senator Ernst, because today, we are hosting a true American hero, in awarding an honor that is long overdue, more than 70 years overdue.

70 years ago on a frozen hill top, deep in what is now North Korea, a young first lieutenant bravely, out of West Point, and barely out of West Point, acted with bravely that earned him the distinguished Service Cross, the military's second highest honor. Today, after more than a decade of effort, including support from my good friend, John McCain, God rest his soul, shortly before he passed away. I'm incredibly proud to give Colonel Ralph Puckett's Act of Valor the full recognition they have always deserved.

Colonel, I'm humbled to have you here today, I really am, along with your loving family, and to award you the Medal of Honor. And though I understand that your first response to us hosting this event was to ask, why all the fuss, why all the fuss? Can't they just mail it to me? I was going to make a joke about the post office, but I decided not to do that.

Colonel Puckett, after 70 years, rather than mail it to you, I would have walked it to you. You know, your lifetime of service to our nation as I think deserves a little bit of fuss, a little bit of fuss.

You know, when I called to tell the colonel that I had approved this award, I also spoke to Jeanie, excuse me for using your first name, that was my mom's name too, and you and my mom are in the same eyes, although you're much too young to be my mom. And they've been married for 68 years. We have something else -- we have one thing in common, we both married way up, we both married way up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) to improve our family.

BIDEN: That's exactly right. Well, Jeanie and Ralph actually met while he was recovering from his wounds. They were married two years to the day after the battle that we're recognizing him today for his bravery.

By the way, you all can sit down, I think.


It just dawned on me. I understand why you're standing. I'd be standing too. But, Jeanie, it's wonderful to welcome you. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

Jill and I know firsthand that it's not just the person who wears the uniform who serves, military families make enormous sacrifices for our nation. So let me add our thanks to you and your life of service as well. I told you earlier that expression by the poet, they also stand -- they also serve, although they stand and wait. And you've waited a long, long time under many, many, many circumstances.

And that goes to the entire family, Marty and her husband, Anthony, Thomas and partner, Chip. I don't know if they're here. I didn't see them yet. And I know the other daughter, Jeanie, isn't with us anymore, just like I wish our son, Beau, were able to be here to see this. He's not with us either. She's here in spirit and represented by her family. And I know she's always in your heart, Colonel, and never leaves.

I also want to recognize Master Sergeant Merle Simpson who fought beside the colonel in Korea. Where are you? Stand up, sir. Come on. Who made the trip to Washington today to represent all of their fallen brothers from the Eighth Army Ranger Company. It's an honor, it's an honor for all their memories as well.

Hill 205 was just 60 miles from the border with China. And then Lieutenant Puckett and the Rangers had their orders to take that hill. As a young officer, Lieutenant Puckett knew that something wasn't quite right. The intelligence briefing indicated that there were 25,000 Chinese troops in the area, outnumbering U.S. and Korean forces two to three -- or excuse me, three to two.

And Lieutenant Puckett, though the numbers -- he thought the numbers for the attack didn't align with the basic military doctrine, the lieutenant believed in the fundamentals. It was how he trained his men. It's how he had handpicked them, chosen from the ranks of cooks and clerks and mechanics to the first Ranger company since World War II. Physical conditioning, tactical training, working as a team, get the basics right, then build from there.

Well, Lieutenant Puckett also believed in being there for the fight. He volunteered for the Army Corps enlisted reserve to try to join to fight in World War II. He volunteered to go to Korea, and instead of the safer posting in Japan. He volunteered for the new Ranger company. And then he prayed, dear God, don't let me get a bunch of guys, good guys, killed, when he was chosen to command that company.

So on the morning of Novembe25th, 1950, mounted on the decks of the tanks, 51 of Puckett's Rangers and nine Korean enlisted soldiers set out to take Hill 205. To make their charge, they had to cross about a half a mile of frozen rice patties that's under fire. And when the machine gunners slowed the Ranger's advance, Puckett risked his life by running across the area to draw fire that would reveal the location of the nest. He did it once. He did it again. It took three runs intentionally exposing himself to the enemy to pick off the gunner.

Of course, Colonel Puckett had developed a dangerous hobby as he recounted in his book of challenging himself to run in front of speeding cars when he was four years old. So, self-preservation, it seemed, was never a primary concern of the colonel.

When the Rangers finally reached the top of Hill 205, they found it abandoned. But Puckett knew the fight wasn't nearly over. His men established a defensive perimeter and then went to coordinate the artillery support, he was sure they would need, and while he was there to load up the ammunition and grenades, the basics.

Shortly after he returned, the first onslaught began. Mortars followed by ground assault from the entire Chinese battalion. Puckett's Rangers were outnumbered almost ten to one.


During the fight, Puckett abandoned the relative safety of his fox hole, moving from man to man, encouraging them in the fight, checking that the perimeter was holding. He took a grenade fragment in his left thigh but Puckett refused to be evacuated. He was a Ranger. He led his men from the front. And over the course of the next several hours, four more waves of assaults came.

Each time Puckett made his rounds, passing out extra ammo and extra encouragement to rally his men, each time he was able to call in artillery support, sometimes danger close, to help break the advance of the Chinese soldiers, each time the Rangers held the hill, pushing back at times with hand to hand fighting.

About 2:30 A.M., after more than four hours of near non-stop fighting, the sixth wave began. By this time the Rangers had -- many Rangers had been killed, and those who were left were exhausted, outnumbered, and dangerously short of ammunition and grenades. Lieutenant Puckett had sustained a second wound, this time in his left shoulder. He had distributed all the ammo to his men, keeping only eight bullets and a bayonet for himself.

For the last time, Puckett called in artillery support, only to be hold the guns were supporting other besieged units, then two mortar rounds landed directly in Puckett's fox hole, tearing through both his feet and his backside and his left arm and shoulder. Puckett's Rangers had been overwhelmed and he himself was badly wounded. He ordered one of his men, who found him on the ground, to leave him behind, but that's not the Ranger creed.

A private ran for help and soon two other Rangers charged back up the Hill fighting off advancing Chinese soldiers, retrieving their commander. They had to drag him down the hill with Lieutenant Puckett reminding them and himself that he could take the pain, quote, i'm a Ranger. Before his men loaded him on a tank to evacuate, Lieutenant Puckett called for one final barrage on Hill 205. And the eighth army unloaded artillery while phosphorus on the Ranger's former position. They did not hold the hill but the rangers extracted a high price.

Korea is sometimes called the forgotten war, but those men who were there under Lieutenant Puckett's command, they'll never forget his bravery. They never forget that he was right by their side throughout every minute of it. And the people in the Republic of Korea haven't forgotten as evidenced by the fact that the prime minister of Korea is here for this ceremony. I doubt this has ever happened before. I can't say that for certain. But I doubt it's happened before. The Americans, all Americans, like Ralph Puckett, joined in their fight.

And while the enduring partnership between our two nations began in war, it has flourished through peace. It's a testament, I think, of the extraordinary strength of our alliance.

And we're joined today, as I said, by President Moon. I can't tell you how happy I am he's able to be here. And if I may I'd like to invite President Moon to say a few words, if that is okay. President Moon?

MOON JAE-IN, SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENT: Mr. President, thank you for your words. I find it truly meaningful to join the Medal of Honor presentation ceremony for Colonel Ralph Puckett Jr., U.S. Army retired, upon President Biden's invitation. I learned that I'm the first foreign leader to ever attend a ceremony of such kind. As president of the Republic of Korea, it is a great honor and pleasure.