The Life of Chesty Puller
Lewis Puller is recognized as the toughest man to wear the US Marine Corps’ uniform. He was nicknamed ‘Chesty’ because of his body stature and his toughness. He had a perfect posture, and his torso was strongly and fully built like that of a bull. While some men became legends after their death, Chesty Puller became a legend while he was still alive. In his thirty-seven years of service as a Marine Corp, Chesty Puller rose through ranks from private to lieutenant general, passionately served with a fearless and devoted stand, and became the most admired and inspirational marine in the American history.
Early life and joining the Marines
Chesty Puller was the son of a grocer, born in 1898 at West Point, Virginia. He grew up hunting, arm wrestling black bears and reading about the history of the military. At the age of ten, he started supporting his family after the death of his father. He was interested in military matters since his young age that he attempted to join the US Army in 1916 with an intention of being a part of the team assigned to capture the Mexican Leader, Pancho Villa. His attempt failed as he was underage and his mother refused to approve his enlistment. Following his interest, he joined Virginia Military Institute in 1917. He, however, pulled out after getting tired of reading books when he could be out in the field taking real military duties. He said he wanted to be where the guns were (Davis 7). He enlisted in the Marine US Corps where he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Marine Reserves although he got placed on an inactive list ten days after his enlistment. Because of his strong purpose and zeal, he re-enlisted in the Corps and went as a lowly private. After making it through a tough training, he was instructed to serve Haiti as a Lieutenant where he would train a newly formed force that consisted of Haitian personnel and Marine Corps.
Chesty’s Marine Life
Chesty served in Haiti from 1919 to 1924. His mission was maintaining order in the fight of the Caco rebels. In the five years, he fought more than forty engagements against the rebels, gained valuable experience in war tactics and jungle warfare. He returned to the US in 1924 where he successfully obtained a commission as second lieutenant and in that post for the next four years, Puller did a variety of assignments in different barracks that took him to Pearl Harbor. From December 1928, he spent his next two years fighting bandits, and by mid-1930, he received first of his five Navy Crosses awards for leading five successive engagements against the armed bandit forces. He returned home in 1931 where he completed the company officer course and returned to Nicaragua where he was awarded his second Navy Cross for being a good leader in the battle against Sandinista rebels. In the following years after Nicaragua service, Puller was sent to serve in China as a commander of US Marines stationed in China. After that, he served aboard USS Augusta and then returned to States in 1936 to Instruct at the Basic School in Philadelphia following which he went back to Augusta in 1939 to command the on-board marine detachment. He returned to the US in 1941 and was given the command of 1st Battalion, 7th Marines.
Pullers’ 7th Marine formed the core in defending Samoa Island from Japanese Forces during World War II. In May 1942, the 7th Marines were redeployed to Guadalcanal. The Japanese troops surrounded Pullers companies during the engagement thereby cutting them off from the American troops. Puller quickly organized a rescue plan by directing the U.S Navy destroyer to provide covering fire while a craft landed to rescue the surrounded marines. The officer in charge of the craft was killed while providing the coverage fire. Puller was awarded the Bronze Star with Combat “V” for his action of saving the marines. Later in Guadalcanal, Puller was awarded his third Navy Cross for commanding the 7th Marines in yet another engagement and defended the Henderson airfield from Japanese force through a firefight. During this defence, the 7th Marines alongside 3rd Battalion of US army sustained 70 casualties while more than 1,400 Japanese troops were killed as Americans held the airfield. After Guadalcanal, Puller was appointed the executive officer of the 7th Marine Regiment. His overall performance in that position until January 1944 earned him a fourth Navy Cross. During the year 1944, he rose from Marine Regiment to commander-in-chief.
When the Korean War broke out, Puller again took the command of 1st Marine Regiment. The marines did not have enough time to set up a camp, and before they could do so, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army were already in position to attack them. The journalists who were embedded in between confronted Chesty wanting to know his plan, but his reply was calm: “We have been looking for the enemy for several days now. We have finally found them as they surround us. That simplifies our problem of finding these people and killing them” (Montross and Major 13). His bravery was not for show; when a major attempted asking for a line of retreat, Chesty commanded the base artillery to shoot any soldier that abandoned his position. In Dec 6, 1950, Chesty was ordered to retreat and was opened an escape route to Hingham. Chesty was successful in bringing out the wounded, the dead and every valuable item. To Chesty that was not a retreat and this kind of bravery earned him his fifth Navy Cross for Chosen Reservoir. In 1951, Chesty served temporarily as an assistant commander in the 1st Marine Division and thereafter took the commander role where he stayed until May. He led 3rd Marine Brigade briefly at Camp Pendleton which became 3rd Marine Division under his lead in January 1952. He was promoted to major general in September 1953 where he acted as a commander of the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeue. He was asked to retire in November 1955 because of his poor health.
For his fearless and brave actions as a military commander, Chesty was admired by his men, and his enemies feared him. He always led from the front and never send his team where he could not go. He was a source of inspiration to his men and in addition built their courage and loyalty. He always treated them well and helped them uphold discipline. He is among the most decorated Marines in the history. He had the rare distinction of winning the nation’s second highest decoration and received Legions of Merit, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star (Cutler 22). This followed his final promotion to lieutenant general and remained in that position until his death in Virginia on October 11, 1971.
Davis, Burke. Marine!: The Life of Chesty Puller. Open Road Media, 2016.
Montross, Lynn, and Major Hubard D. Kuokka USMC. US Marine Operations in Korea 1950-1953: Volume IV-The East-Central Front. Illustrated ed., vol. 4., Pickle Partners Publishing, 2015.
Cutler, Thomas, ed. The US Naval Institute on the Marine Corps at War. Naval Institute Press, 2016.