Chesty Puller: The Legendary Marine
Birth Name: Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller
Date of Birth: 26 June 1898
Place of Birth: West Point, Virginia
Date of Death: 11 October 1971 (Seventy-Three Years of Age)
Place of Death: Hampton, Virginia
Cause of Death: Long-term Illness
Place of Burial: Christ Church, Saluda, Virginia
Spouse(s): Virginia Montague Evans
Children: Lewis Burwell Puller Junior (Son); Virginia McCandlish Puller (Daughter)
Father: Matthew Puller
Mother: Martha Puller
Siblings: Emily Puller (Sister); Samuel D. Puller (Brother); Pattie Puller (Sister)
Occupation: United States Marine Corps
Military Service: United States Marine Corps with 1st Battalion, 2nd Battalion, and 3rd Battalion Marine Divisions
Years of Military Service: 1918-1955
Highest Rank Achieved: Lieutenant General
Notable Battles: Banana Wars; Battle of Peleliu; Battle for Henderson Field; Battle of Cape Gloucester; Battle of Inchon; Second Battle of Seoul; Battle of Chosin Reservoir
Awards/Honors: Navy Cross (Five); Distinguished Service Cross; Silver Star; Legion of Merit (With “V” Device”); Bronze Star Medal (With “V” Device”); Air Medal; Purple Heart
Best Known For: Most Decorated Marine in American History
Quick Facts About Puller
Quick Fact #1: Lewis “Chesty” Puller was born in West Point, Virginia on 26 June 1898 to Matthew and Martha Puller. Puller’s father worked as a grocer in their local community, but died when young Lewis was only ten years of age. As a southerner, Lewis came to idolize the accomplishments of former Confederate Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, as local veterans of the Civil War described former battles to the young and impressionable Puller all throughout his childhood. The experience prompted Lewis to pursue a military career, and in 1917 he left his family home to attend the Virginia Military Institute. Ironically, Puller left the institute after only a year due to his desire to participate in the still-raging war in Europe (World War One). Greatly inspired by the Marines and their stance at Belleau Wood against the German Army, Puller enlisted in the United States Marine Corps as a private, where he was promptly sent to the Marine Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina. Despite his efforts to see combat, however, the war ended before Puller could be deployed.
Quick Fact #2: After graduating from the Marine Corps’ Basic Training, Puller attended their non-commissioned officer training, and soon after the Officer Candidates School (OCS) in Quantico, Virginia. After graduating from OCS, Puller was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve. To Puller’s dismay, however, the Marine Corps began a rapid reduction in troop-levels following the First World War, cutting their forces nearly in half and putting Puller on inactive status. Puller later re-enlisted to overcome his inactive status in the Reserves, but was forced to take a demotion to the rank of Corporal.
Quick Fact #3: Following his reenlistment, Puller was deployed to Haiti for approximately five years where he helped to train the newly formed “Gendarmerie d’Haiti.” He later returned to the United States in 1924, where he once again received his commission as a Second Lieutenant and was assigned to Marine Barracks, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Puller later served a second tour of duty in Nicaragua, earning a Navy Cross for bravery during battles with rebel forces in the region. He was also assigned to a campaign in China, where he took command of the famous “Horse Marines” that were tasked with guarding Americans around the city of Beijing. He was later reassigned to China where he took command of the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment in Shanghai in 1940. After years of fighting abroad, Puller returned home to the United States for a short leave in August 1941, and was given command of 1st Battalion, 7th Marines who were stationed in North Carolina. Puller’s time at home was short-lived, however, as the United States was drawn into conflict with the Japanese Empire and Nazi Germany only a few months later with the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Quick Fact #4: Following the outbreak of World War Two, Puller’s 7th Marines were rapidly deployed to Samoa to help defend the area from Japanese attack (8 May 1942). By September, however, the 7th Marines left Samoa to rejoin the First Marine Division in their attack on Guadalcanal (18 September 1942). During the battle, Puller and his Marines engaged in fierce combat along the Matanikau River. Nearly surrounded, Puller bravely fought alongside each of his men and directed naval gunfire on Japanese positions. Puller also played a key role in the defense of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, suffering combat wounds in one of the fiercest battles to take place on the island. For his actions, Puller was later awarded the Navy Cross, along with the Bronze Star.
Quick Facts Continued...
Quick Fact #5: Puller also saw combat during the “Battle of Cape Gloucester,” and the “Battle for Peleliu.” After being promoted to the rank of Colonel on 1 February 1944, Puller was given full command of the First Marine Regiment, and played a key role in their eventual victory on both islands. For his actions and bravery in both campaigns, Puller was awarded two Legion of Merit Awards. Puller returned to the United States in November of 1944, where he was named “Commanding Officer” over the infantry training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. For his stellar combat record and experience, Puller was later named Director of the Eighth Reserve District, and later became commander of the Marine Barracks at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii following the end of the Second World War.
Quick Fact #6: Only a few years after the Second World War ended, the United States was called upon once again to help in the conflict raging along the Korean peninsula. Puller, who was once again given command of the First Marine Regiment, played a decisive role in the Marine amphibious landing that took place on Inchon (15 September 1950). The successful landing, which effectively cut North Korean supply lines to the South, allowed American forces to begin military operations against the North. For his actions and extraordinary leadership, Puller was awarded the Silver Star, and later earned another Legion of Merit award, as well as the “Distinguished Service Cross.” Puller was also present at the bloody “Battle of Chosin Reservoir,” in which Chinese reinforcements prevented further advancement into North Korea. Highly outnumbered, Puller and his Marines began a strategic retreat back to the South, taking up defensive positions on high-ground along their way. This tactic proved highly successful as the Marines and Army were able to cut down numerous enemy troops, while simultaneously falling back to more secure territory. For his heroism during the battle, Puller was awarded his fifth Navy Cross. Shortly after the battle, Puller was promoted to brigadier general, where he was assigned as Assistant Division Commander of the First Marine Division. Puller later left Korea in May of 1951, where he took over infantry training in Coronado, California and commanded the Third Marine Division at Camp Pendleton. Only a year later, he was promoted to Major General.
Quick Fact #7: Following the Korean War, Puller’s military career came to a grinding halt. After taking command of the Second Marine Division at Camp Lejeune and becoming Deputy Camp Commander, Puller suffered a career-ending stroke. After countless years of combat, Puller was forcibly retired by the United States Marine Corps on 1 November 1955 with a “tombstone promotion” (promotion at retirement) to Lieutenant General.
Quick Fact #8: Following his forced retirement from the Marines, Puller moved to Saluda, Virginia where he remained with his wife for the remainder of his life. On 11 October 1971, Puller died following a long-term illness; thus, ending the career of the most highly-decorated Marine of all time. He remains buried next to his wife at Christ Church Parish Episcopal in Saluda, Virginia.
Fun Fact #1: To this day, Chester Puller remains a legend in the Marine Corps. His experiences are often recounted during Marine training for new recruits as an inspiration to all. Often times in Marine boot camp, recruits end their day with the declaration: “Good night, Chesty, wherever you are!”
Fun Fact #2: One of Puller’s mottos was to always lead by example. As a result, Puller refused to eat with other officers or to remain behind the front during combat. Instead, Puller ate and lived with his men on a daily basis, fighting right beside them, and refusing comforts that were afforded to the officer ranks. For this reason, Puller was deeply admired by his men.
Fun Fact #3: Lewis Puller received his nickname “Chesty” because of his large, barrel-shaped chest. In Marine legends, it is said that Puller had been shot in the chest, and that his “new” replacement chest was constructed out of a steel plate.
Fun Fact #4: Puller was (and remains to this day) the most decorated Marine in history, and is the only Marine to have received five Navy Crosses during his military career. The only service member to have received this many Navy Crosses is U.S. Navy submarine commander, Roy Milton Davenport.
Fun Fact #5: Puller had one son by the name of Lewis Burwell Puller Junior, who also served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War as a Second Lieutenant. While serving in combat, his son was severely wounded after stepping on a landmine. The explosion caused Puller Jr. to lose both of his legs, as well as parts of his hands. Upon seeing his son in this condition, Chester Puller reportedly broke down and sobbed uncontrollably. The occasion marked the first time anyone had ever seen Puller cry openly. Although his son recovered and eventually wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning autobiography, he sadly committed suicide in 1994.
Fun Fact #6: Puller was distantly related to the world-famous Army General, George S. Patton. It is believed that the two were distant cousins.
“I’ve always believed that no officer’s life, regardless of rank, is of such great value to his country that he should seek safety in the rear. Officers should be forward with their men at the point of impact.”— Lewis "Chesty" Puller
Quotes by Puller
Quote #1: “All right, they’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us. They can’t get away this time!”
Quote #2: “Don’t forget that you’re First Marines! Not all the communists in hell can overrun you!”
Quote #3: “Paperwork will ruin any military force.”
Quote #4: “The mail service has been excellent out here, and in my opinion this is all that the Air Force has accomplished during the war.”
Quote #5: “Retreat? Hell, we’re just attacking in a different direction.” –Chester Puller referencing his strategic retreat at the Chosin Reservoir.
Quote #6: “In the Marine Corps, your buddy is not only your classmate or fellow officer, but he is also the Marine under your command. If you don’t prepare yourself to properly train him, lead him, and support him on the battlefield, then you’re going to let him down. That is unforgivable in the Marine Corps.”
Quote #7: “I’ve always believed that no officer’s life, regardless of rank, is of such great value to his country that he should seek safety in the rear. Officers should be forward with their men at the point of impact.”
Quote #8: “My definition, the definition that I’ve always believed in, is that esprit de corps means love for one’s own military legion – in my case, the United States Marine Corps. It means more than self-preservation, religion, or patriotism. I’ve also learned that this loyalty to one’s corps travels both ways: up and down.”
Quote #9: “If you want to get the most out of your men, give them a break! Don’t make them work completely in the dark. If you do, they won’t do a bit more than they have to. But if they comprehend, they’ll work like mad.”
Quote #10: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”
Before reading this article, had you ever heard of "Chesty" Puller before?
In closing, Lewis “Chesty” Puller remains one of the greatest Marines to have ever served in the Marine Corps due to his courage, bravery, and sense of dedication to his men and country. To this day, Puller continues to inspire Marines, new recruits, and military servicemen as his actions in war (and at home) represented ideals that all military members should aspire to. Although Puller is gone, his spirit and legend will continue to live on in the hearts and minds of Marines everywhere.
Hoffman, John T. Chesty: The Story of Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller, USMC. New York, New York: Random House, 2001.
Wikipedia contributors, "Chesty Puller," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chesty_Puller&oldid=894260531 (accessed May 5, 2019).
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