The Outside World The Incredible True Story Of The Most Decorated Marine In History Published 7 months ago on Jul 31, 2018 By Eric Sumner Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, a Virginian, was an American hero and Marine Corps icon who served his country bravely in conflicts throughout the world, including in World War II and the Korean War. A distant cousin to beloved U.S. Gen. George S. Patton, it’s no wonder Puller is regarded as a legend among Marines. After all, this is a man who repeatedly proved his valor on the field of battle, even toughing out the most horrific of wounds, to serve his country to the best of his ability. Read on for the incredible true story of one of America’s greatest war heroes. 1. Humble Beginnings Destined for greatness, Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller was born in 1898 in West Point, Virginia. That’s not to be mistaken for America’s most prestigious military academy, also called West Point, but the coincidence here shouldn’t be overlooked. Puller was a military enthusiast from a young age. PBS His father was a grocer but sadly passed away when Puller was just ten years old. Even so, Puller wasn’t exactly lacking in masculine role models. Rumor has it, the boy spent many hours listening to heroic tales from the American Civil War, idolizing generals who fought in the war. Soon enough, Puller would be ready to rival even those generals in historical stature. 2. Eager For Action By 1916, Puller was a teenager. He was eager to see some action for himself and make some war stories of his own. The young Virginian tried to enlist in the U.S. Army to fight in the Border War with Mexico, but he was too young and his widowed mother refused to give the required permission. The New York Times So, much to Puller’s dismay, his first attempt break into the U.S. military didn’t go as smoothly as planned. Such is the way of the soldier. They couldn’t keep him out for long, though, and Chesty was far from the type to give up. 3. Soldier At Last Puller managed to enroll at the Virginia Military Institute in 1917, but training from within the comfort of the borders of United States wasn’t enough for him. What the young man really wanted was to join the fighting during the First World War. Pinterest Puller reportedly announced his intention to “go where the guns are” when the United States joined what was known as the Great War in April of that year. Easy does it, Chesty. He’d get his chance eventually. 4. ‘Chesty’ Joins The Marines With his zeal to follow the guns, Puller left the Virginia institution in August 1918 to enlist as a private in the United States Marine Corps, in a major step toward fulfilling his destiny and changing the famed organization forever. The Black Vault He was sent for training to the elite branch’s boot camp on Parris Island in South Carolina. Puller was said to have been inspired to join the Marines by reports of their determined fighting alongside French and British troops at the 1918 Battle of Belleau Wood, in France. For the second time now, though, Puller’s plans wouldn’t go exactly as he’d hoped. 5. Too Late For The Great War Chesty Puller was late to the game and World War I ended before he got a chance to fire a single shot. If that were all that was the matter, our hero would have been in decent shape. Nautil.us He graduated as a second lieutenant from officer training school in his home state in 1919, but peacetime cutbacks to the marines after the war meant he was a surplus to requirements. Nevertheless, Puller was no quitter. 6. Destined And Determined Quitting is the last thing Marines are known for. And Puller, whose name Marines chant in boot camp to this day, truly embodied the “Devil Dog” Marine spirit. He reenlisted almost immediately after the war as a corporal and ended up joining the paramilitary police in Haiti, the Gendarmerie d’Haiti. The Trebuchet The force was tasked with keeping the peace in the Caribbean country while it was occupied by the United States under President Woodrow Wilson, and served as Puller’s first chance to see some kind of action outside of the United States. During his five years in Haiti, Puller was involved in about 40 operations against insurgents. But that wasn’t all. 7. The Banana Wars Puller was finally recommissioned as a second lieutenant in 1924 after his service in Haiti, and for the next four years he largely served on various bases around Virginia as a trainer. Some might call this period Puller’s calm before the storm. El Imperio de Caliban That same year, the 30-year-old Puller traveled to Nicaragua, once again to fight insurgents opposed to U.S. occupation. It was in the South American country that Puller would finally find some action. But how would he handle it? 8. Recognition In Writing In Nicaragua, Puller earned his first Navy Cross, the second-highest military award for valor in combat, for holding off the Sandinista rebels who opposed U.S. occupation of the country. The medal came after sustained period of fighting in 1930 when Puller heroically led the Nicaraguan National Guard troop to victory. Pinterest It was the first of five Navy Crosses Puller would earn. Some today have argued that it’s time for perhaps the most legendary Marine to be awarded a Medal of Honor, but “Chesty” Puller’s name looms large with or without official awards. What he did to prove himself in battle speaks for itself – as you will soon find out. 9. Outnumbered And Victorious According to the citation for Puller’s Navy Cross award, he had led his men in no less than “five successful engagements against superior numbers of armed bandit forces… with the result that the bandits were in each engagement completely routed with losses of nine killed and many wounded.” The Sandino Rebellion Puller courageously led American Marines and Nicaraguan National Guardsmen into battle in the last major engagement of the Sandino Rebellion in December 1932. The end of his Central American adventures was near. 10. Puller’s Nickname Puller’s nickname, “Chesty,” is said to have derived from the general’s ramrod posture and generally gruff appearance. Puller was so tough that some of his men boasted he had somehow replaced his chest, which they claimed had been hacked away by machete-swinging bandits in Haiti during the Banana Wars, with a steel one. I Love Palm Springs! Others claimed he developed his prominent chest from shouting commands over the noise of battle. “We don’t need no frontline communications,” men under Puller bragged, “Chesty yells commands up and down the line. You can hear him for miles.” Toward the end of the Banana Wars, Puller would begin his rise to leadership within the U.S. military. 11. ‘Indomitable Courage And Persistence’ In 1931, Puller found himself back stateside for a 12-month Company Officers Course at Fort Benning in Georgia. But he returned to Nicaragua toward the end of the year for a brief period – a very brief period. Pinterest It only took the man with the famous barrel chest a little more than a week to earn his second Navy Cross, after engaging in a ferocious series of actions against the rebel Sandinistas. Puller was now officially done with Central America – and he had two medals to prove it. Now, for the next incredible adventure. 12. Beijing And The China Marines His time in Central America at an end, Chesty Puller was now posted to China, where he took command of a unit known as the China Marines. The task of this detachment was to guard the American diplomatic service in Beijing. The China Marines Over the next few years, Puller’s service was divided between East Asia, on board the USS Augusta and a stint back home as a trainer in Philadelphia. He eventually returned to Shanghai, China as an executive officer. It was in the Chinese coastal city that Puller and his men would discuss the chaos that was about to come. 13. Fearless Foreshadowing In Shanghai during the summer of 1941, then-acting battalion commander Puller dropped into a gathering of non-commissioned officers. The tension was in the air: They all knew the United States could be dragged into the Second World War at any given moment. A sergeant asked Puller how he’d respond if the Japanese were to start a “shooting war” to drag the United States into the the Second Great War. The China Marines Puller’s response was as decisive as ever. “I don’t know what the United States Government will do; I don’t know what Marine Headquarters will do; and I don’t know what the regiment will do. But – no orders to the contrary – I’ll take my battalion and fight my way the hell back to Frisco.” 14. Bombs Away In August 1941, Lt. Puller took up command of a Marine battalion in North Carolina. Puller would soon get the chance to put his money where his mouth was, as a few months later, the Japanese would bomb Pearl Harbor and the United States would enter World War II. History on the Net September of the following year, Puller and his unit were posted to the South Pacific island of Guadalcanal. It wasn’t long before he and his men came into direct contact with Japanese forces, entering a six-month campaign against the axis powers: Germany, Japan and Italy. The battle had begun. 15. Quick Thinking When It Mattered Most Soon after arriving on Guadalcanal, Puller led his battalion in a fierce battle, during which his quick thinking saved three of his companies from annihilation. In the action, these companies were surrounded and cut off by a larger Japanese force. All That Is Interesting Puller heroically ran to the shore, signaled a United States Navy destroyer and then directed the destroyer to provide fire support while his Marines were rescued from their dangerous position. Chesty Puller was a man who practiced what he preached – but it didn’t end there. 16. Navy Cross No. 3 Puller’s Guadalcanal service would see him pick up his third Navy Cross toward the end of the year – the end of the year the U.S. entered the war. And how couldn’t it? The night he earned the award was truly the stuff of movies. Pinterest Tropical rainfall was pouring from the South Pacific skies and Puller’s battalion and a second infantry unit were engaged in a battle line that stretched for about a mile. They were defending an air base the Marines had captured from the Japanese earlier in the year, and they would fight to defend it tooth and nail. But what happened to them? 17. Fending Off The Enemy In The Night The Japanese launched a night attack with an overwhelming number of troops in one of their most forceful attempts to reclaim the air base. The siege, though, still wasn’t successful enough. Puller held off the Japanese for three hours, and after those three hours ended, they failed to take back the base. History of Sorts The Americans suffered about 70 casualties, and the Japanese – about 1,400. The citation for this Navy Cross applauded Puller for “Courageously withstanding the enemy’s desperate and determined attacks,” adding that the now lieutenant colonel was “largely responsible for the successful defense of the sector assigned to his troops.” That successful defense came at a cost for Puller. 18. A Hero Wounded After the firefight that ensued on that October night, during which the Americans held the airfield, Puller nominated two of his men for Medals of Honor, one of the few high honors he himself would not be awarded. Pinterest During one of the battles on Guadalcanal, Puller was wounded in the leg seven times by shrapnel in a single engagement. When a doctor suggested he be evacuated, one of the most famous Puller quotes, or “Pullerisms,” was born. “Evacuate me, hell! Take that tag and label a bottle with it. I will remain in command!” the service newspaper Marine Corps Times recalled him saying in 1948. Obviously, that wasn’t the end of the story for Puller. 19. Daring Display Of Bravery After the October firefight, Puller was made executive officer of the 7th Marine Regiment. And in January of 1944, he made another daring display of bravery elsewhere in the Pacific. This time around, Puller and his battalion were doing the overwhelming themselves. CNN Puller’s men were assaulted by Japanese machine gun and mortar fire at the Battle of Cape Gloucester in the New Guinea territory. The lieutenant colonel and his men overwhelmed Japanese positions in a counteroffensive, earning him his fourth Navy Cross. In his next battle, Puller would see the kind of fighting he had dreamed of all his life. 20. Loss Of A Loved One Puller led the 1st Marine Regiment into the protracted battle on Peleliu, one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history. It was for that battle that he received his first of two Legion of Merit awards, given for exceptionally meritorious conduct. Wikimedia Commons In a cruel twist of fate, Puller’s younger brother, Samuel D. Puller, was killed by an enemy sniper in Guam. The elder Puller returned to the U.S. shortly after. Though he came out victorious and recognized, his appetite for action had not yet been quenched. World War II wouldn’t be Puller’s last major war. 21. A Man Of The People Chesty Puller lived with his men. There were no officers’ messes in his units. The much-decorated Puller flatly refused luxuries his men couldn’t have, opting instead to do what they do and eat what they eat. In fact, the Marine tradition of having officers eat last stems directly from Puller’s stubborn habit of leading from the front. Marine Corps Times While on a patrol one time, Puller sent a runner back to division headquarters with a note. The runner asked if there was anything he could bring back for the colonel. “Well, old man,” Puller growled, “Get soap, tobacco and mail for the men.” And Puller’s attentiveness to his men didn’t end there. 22. Attention To The Wounded Puller’s attention to his men expanded beyond the boundaries of his unit area. Every man under his command who was sent to military prison was brought back to him after having done their time. Few returned to military prison more than once. warfarehistorynetwork.com Puller also sought out his men in the hospital during combat, and all wounded men of the 1st Battalion received a personal letter. The typical letter from Puller reads: “The officers and men of the 1st Battalion, Seventh Marines, recall with pride the part that you played in our success against the enemy until you received your injury in action.” And that’s not all. 23. ‘The Perfect Soldier’ Puller’s legendary status wasn’t only cemented in recent years – he was beloved throughout his service. Recalling the battle on Guadalcanal in which Puller was wounded, Sergeant Leopold Jupiter, then a Marine Combat Correspondent, referred to Chesty Puller as the ideal Marine. The Plutarch Project “On Guadalcanal where heroes are made, I have found a man whom many call ‘the perfect soldier,'” Jupiter said. “I picture my perfect soldier to be an inspiring leader of men, a fighting fool, a kind and tolerant officer, and above all, a fearless warrior.” Puller would take that reputation with him into his next major war. 24. Puller’s Second Major War In November 1944, shortly after his brother’s death, Puller returned to the United States to take command of the Infantry Training Regiment based at Camp Lejeune, in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Just imagine training under a man like him. The Anzac Portal After World War II ended, other commands in New Orleans and at Pearl Harbor came his way. But, again, Puller retained his appetite for action. The Korean War broke out in June 1950, giving Puller another chance to show what he and the U.S. Marines could do. 25. Surrounded Doesn’t Mean Lost Ready to give the Communists a taste of what he gave the Japanese, Puller valiantly led the First Marine Regiment ashore at Incheon in South Korea in September 1950. He later received a Silver Star for his efforts, and three months later at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, he earned his fifth Navy Cross. The Intercept It was during the Korean War, while surrounded by enemy troops, that Puller uttered perhaps the most famous Pullerism ever. “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.” 26. America’s Most Decorated Marine In addition to the incredible five Navy Crosses and numerous medals Puller won, he also received an Army Distinguished Service Cross, making him the most decorated of all United States Marines in history, even though many feel he should have been awarded the highest U.S. award of all, the Medal of Honor. Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children Puller was once quoted as saying that “it takes a lifetime to become a good officer.” Well, Chesty, with his chest full of medals, became more than a good officer. Medal of Honor or not, Marines throughout the world chant his name every day. His courageous spirit runs in the family, too, you’ll soon learn. 27. Lewis Burwell Puller, Jr. Puller’s son, Lewis Burwell Puller Jr. (generally known as Lewis Puller), followed his father’s footsteps into the Marines, serving as a Marine lieutenant in the Vietnam War. While serving with the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, Puller Jr. was severely wounded by a mine explosion during a fierce battle against Viet Cong insurgents. Military History Veteran Chesty broke down sobbing when he saw his son for the first time in the hospital after having been wounded. Lewis Jr. won a 1992 Pulitzer Prize for his autobiography Fortunate Son: The Healing of a Vietnam Vet. Indeed, Lewis Jr. wasn’t following only his father into the U.S. military – the two came from a long lineage of successful warriors and American patriots. One in particular, you might have heard of. 28. A Descendant Of Military Giants Chesty Puller was Army General George S. Patton’s fourth cousin, once removed. The same George S. Patton that helped lead the U.S. to victory during World War II. Puller was also a direct descendant of Lewis Burwell, who was a colonel in the Virginia militia during the American Revolutionary War. survivalblog.com Chesty’s grandfather was a Confederate Major in the Civil War and four of Chesty’s great-uncles on his mother’s side also fought in the War Between the States. One of his great-uncles was among the officers who led Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, as you will soon find out. 29. Puller’s Role Model As mentioned, Puller was a huge civil war buff when he grew up. And the Civil War ended in 1865, just more than 30 years before Puller was born. So it’s quite likely he came across veterans of the war, and that they played a role in shaping his hard-ass world view. The young Puller apparently idolized Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Richmond Times-Dispatch It makes sense that Puller lookup up to a man as rough as Jackson. Puller, known for cigar-chewing and his prominent jaw, saw no room for weakness in men or mercy for America’s enemies. His lionhearted military career reflects that, and it secured his place in history alongside heroes like Jackson. 30. Chesty Puller’s Legacy Through his decades of fearless service and bold leadership, Chesty Puller set his legacy in stone. The Marine Corps’ mascot, a purebred English bulldog, is perpetually named “Chesty Pullerton.” Marines sometimes end their nights by saying, “Good night, Chesty Puller, wherever you are!” Pinterest Sometimes, when pushing each other, Marines say “Chesty Puller never quit!” In boot camp, Marines comfort themselves with “It was good for Chesty Puller, and it’s good enough for me.” Each year, a Marine Corps detachment from Fort Lee, Virginia, runs 66 miles to Pullers grave in his honor. Puller the legend lives on! Sources: The Washington Times, Marineparents.com, Marine Corps Association & Foundation UP NEXT Gunsmoke: Top Facts Behind The Longest-Lived Show on Television... 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