Lt. Gen. Lewis |
The Legendary 'Chesty' Puller Was A True 'Marine's Marine'
Who Never Forgot His Noncom Days
During the Korean War, the Chinese communists had overrun the Yalu River and the Marines battling them were in a running fight to reach the coast. Ten Chinese divisions surrounded Col. Lewis Berwell Puller's 1st Marines. The indomitable "Chesty" Puller saw the situation with his own brand of logic: "Those poor bastards," he said. "They've got us right where we want them. We can fire in any direction now!"
Puller's logic might have confounded those outside of the combat arena, but it never failed his men. From the halls of the Virginia Military Institute to the shores of the Yalu, Puller remained a "Marine's Marine" and an officer who never forgot his noncom days, insisting always that his enlisted men eat first. Puller trained for battle as an infantryman, a cavalryman, an artilleryman, an aviator, and a shipboard officer. He spent all but ten of his 37 active-duty years at sea or overseas, earning five Navy crosses, and retiring at the rank of lieutenant general.
"Chesty" Puller dropped out of the venerable Virginia Military Institute at the end of his freshman year to enlist in the Marines, saying "I want to go where the guns are!" While he never saw World War I combat, he re-enlisted for service in Haiti and cut his "battle teeth" against the Caco rebels there. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, in 1930 he saw action in Nicaragua, earning the nickname "El Tigre" for his ferocious assaults on Sandino's rebels, and his first Navy Cross.
After a stint with the "Horse Marines" in China, Lt. Col. Puller commanded 1st Battalion, 7th Marines during the battle for Guadalcanal in Oct. 1942, where he seemed to be constantly at the front, encouraging and aiding his men. In the bloody battle of Peleliu, Puller's Marines sustained such a high casualty rate that they had to be removed from the fight.
With four Navy Crosses on his prominent chest, Puller once again saw action, landing with his 1st Marines at Inchon in Sept. 1950. With his weathered face and piercing gaze, Gen. Puller was every inch a Marine until the end, even volunteering for duty in Vietnam when he was 73 (he was turned down due to age). Puller died in 1971 after a long illness. When once asked what his one wish would be, "Chesty" Puller responded, "I would like to see the face of every Marine I served with one last time."
Have a suggestion for a Military Legend? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.