Lieutenant General Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller
Those of us who don’t wear the globe and anchor hear Marines recite salutations to the legendary Chesty Puller (“Goodnight, Chesty, wherever you are.”). To them, he has become the prototype Marine, the standard against which all leathernecks measure themselves. Who was he?
Chesty Puller (so named because of his barrel chest), a distant relative of Gen George S. Patton, enlisted in the Marines in 1918 to, “…go where the guns are.” Although he didn’t serve overseas during WWI, his enlistment began a career that spanned 37 years.
He served in Haiti to fight against the Caco rebels (1919-1924).
He served in Nicaragua twice, earning two Navy Crosses fighting Nicaraguan rebels (1928-1931, 1932-1933).
But it wasn’t until WWII that the legend of Chesty Puller began to come into focus. Commanding the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division at Guadalcanal, he engaged in fierce fights against Japanese forces, earning his third Navy Cross. “The action which brought him that medal occurred on the night of 24-25 October 1942. For a desperate three hours his battalion, stretched over a mile-long front, was the only defense between vital Henderson Airfield and a regiment of seasoned Japanese troops. In pouring jungle rain the Japanese smashed repeatedly at his thin line, as General Puller moved up and down its length to encourage his men and direct the defense. After reinforcements arrived he commanded the augmented force until late the next afternoon. The defending Marines suffered less than 70 casualties in the engagement, while 1,400 of the enemy were killed and 17 truckloads of Japanese equipment were recovered by the Americans. (USMC History Division)” While at Guadacanal he was shot twice and wounded three times by schrapnel, receiving the Purple Heart (wikipedia).
After Guadalcanal, he was awarded his fourth Navy Cross for action at Cape Gloucester (New Guinea), and commanded the First Marines at Peleliu.
His legend was crystallized in Korea, where he led the 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division in its famous breakout from the Chosin Reservoir. It is during that engagement that he was awarded his fifth Navy Cross, and at which he famously stated, “”We’ve been looking for the enemy for some time now. We’ve finally found him. We’re surrounded. That simplifies things. (wikipedia)”
His language was colorful. His courage under fire was legendary. He was an enlisted Marine and an officer. He was there at some of the most important battles in modern history, and excelled.
He was one of the most decorated Marines in history, and the only one to ever wear five Navy Crosses.
His legacy not only still lives, it thrives, and it is no wonder. He embodied the spirit of the Corps, the same spirit that permeates our Marines today. Chesty Puller was a Marine. He belongs to the ages, yes. But really, he belongs to his beloved leathernecks. That’s who Chesty Puller was.
Goodnight, Chesty, wherever you are.