Lewis Burwell Puller
Engagements: • Banana Wars (1898 - 1934)• World War II (1941 - 1945)• Korean War (1950 - 1953)
Lewis Burwell Puller was born 26 June 1898 in West Point, VA, to Matthew and Martha Puller. His father was a wholesale grocer who died when Lewis was 10 years old, leaving him the head of the house. Puller grew up idolizing General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and listening to tales of the Civil War from old veterans. Lewis attended West Point High School and wanted to enlist in the Army to fight in Mexico in 1916, but his mother felt that he was too young and would not give her parental consent.
A year later, Puller attended the Virginia Military Institute. With World War I raging in Europe, Puller left VMI at the end of his freshman year to enlist in the Marines, saying simply, "I want to go where the guns are!" Inspired by the 5th Marines performance at the Battle of Belleau Wood (France), in 1918 he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps as a private and attended boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, at Parris Island, SC. He was now Serial No. 135517 in the organization where he would eventually become known as "Chesty" Puller; not only for his perfect posture and the fact that his torso somewhat resembled a full-size beer keg full of lead bricks and raw muscle - but also for his absolute fearlessness and devotion to duty.
The Interwar Years
Although he never saw action in WWI, the Corps was expanding. After graduating from boot camp, he attended Non-Commissioned Officers School and, following that, attended Officer Candidates School (OCS) at Quantico, VA. Upon graduation from OCS on 16 June 1919, Puller was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Reserves. However, the reduction in force after the war led to his being put on inactive status 10 days later and given the rank of corporal.
As a corporal, Puller received orders to serve in the Gendarmerie d'Haiti as a lieutenant, seeing action in Haiti. While the U.S. was working under a treaty with Haiti, he participated in over forty engagements during the ensuing five years against the Caco rebels and twice attempted to regain his commission as a Marine officer. In 1922, he served as an Adjutant to General Alexander Vandegrift, a future Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Puller returned to the U.S. on 6 March 1924, and was finally re-commissioned as a second lieutenant (service number 03158) in the Marine Corps. Later, he completed assignments at the Marine Barracks in Norfolk, VA; The Basic School at Quantico; and, with the 10th Marine Artillery Regiment at Quantico. He was assigned to the Marine Barracks at Pearl Harbor, HI in July 1926 and transferred to San Diego, CA in 1928.
In December 1928, Puller was assigned to the Nicaraguan National Guard detachment. He earned his first Navy Cross [the Navy Cross is second only to the Medal of Honor] there and his actions in that assignment are summarized in the citation that accompanied the award: "For distinguished service in the line of his profession while commanding a Nicaraguan National Guard patrol. First Lieutenant Lewis B. Puller, United States Marine Corps, successfully led his forces into five successful engagements against superior numbers of armed bandit forces; namely, at LaVirgen on 16 February 1930, at Los Cedros on 6 June 1930, at Moncotal on 22 July 1930, at Guapinol on 25 July 1930, and at Malacate on 19 August 1930, with the result that the bandits were in each engagement completely routed with losses of nine killed and many wounded. By his intelligent and forceful leadership without thought of his own personal safety, by great physical exertion and by suffering many hardships, Lieutenant Puller surmounted all obstacles and dealt five successive and severe blows against organized banditry in the Republic of Nicaragua."
By the time he left Nicaragua, Chesty was reportedly known as "The Tiger of the Mountains" and was so despised by his enemies that the leaders of the rebel guerrillas had put a 5,000 peso reward on his head. [You know you're doing a good job when your enemy hires bounty hunters and mercenaries to kill you.]
He returned to the U.S. in July 1931 and completed the year-long Company Officers Course at Fort Benning, GA. After that, he returned to Nicaragua from 20 September to 1 October 1932, where he earned a second Navy Cross. Again, the citation accompanying the Navy Cross provides the details: "First Lieutenant Lewis B. Puller, United States Marine Corps (Captain, Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua) performed exceptionally meritorious service in a duty of great responsibility while in command of a Guardia Patrol from 20 September to 1 October 1932. Lieutenant Puller and his command of forty Guardia and Gunnery Sergeant William A. Lee, [nickname, 'Ironman'] United States Marine Corps, serving as a First Lieutenant in the Guardia, penetrated the isolated mountainous bandit territory for a distance of from eighty to one hundred miles north of Jinotega, his nearest base. This patrol was ambushed on 26 September 1932, at a point northeast of Mount Kilambe by an insurgent force of one hundred fifty in a well-prepared position armed with not less than seven automatic weapons and various classes of small arms and well-supplied with ammunition. Early in the combat, Gunnery Sergeant Lee, the Second in Command was seriously wounded and reported as dead. The Guardia immediately behind Lieutenant Puller in the point was killed by the first burst of fire, Lieutenant Puller, with great courage, coolness and display of military judgment, so directed the fire and movement of his men that the enemy were driven first from the high ground on the right of his position, and then by a flanking movement forced from the high ground to the left and finally were scattered in confusion with a loss of ten killed and many wounded by the persistent and well-directed attack of the patrol. The numerous casualties suffered by the enemy and the Guardia losses of two killed and four wounded are indicative of the severity of the enemy resistance. This signal victory in jungle country, with no lines of communication and a hundred miles from any supporting force, was largely due to the indomitable courage and persistence of the patrol commander. Returning with the wounded to Jinotega, the patrol was ambushed twice by superior forces on 30 September. On both of the occasions the enemy was dispersed with severe losses."
After his Nicaragua service, Puller was assigned to the Marine detachment at the American Legation in Beijing, China where he commanded a unit of Horse Marines. [These men formed the Legation Guards at the American Embassy in Beijing as well as the guards for the International Settlement in Shanghai, China from 1909 onward.] He then went on to serve aboard the USS Augusta (CA-31), a heavy cruiser in the Asiatic Fleet, which was commanded by then-Captain Chester W. Nimitz. Puller returned to the States in June 1936 as an Instructor at the Basic School in Philadelphia.
In May 1939, he returned to the Augusta as commander of the onboard Marine detachment, and then back to China, disembarking in Shanghai in May 1940. Puller was then assigned as the Executive Officer of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines; he later served as its commanding officer.
World War II
Major Puller returned to the U.S. on 28 August 1941. After a short leave, he was given command of 1st Battalion, 7th Marines (known as 1/7) of the 1st Marine Division, stationed at New River, NC. This new Marine amphibious base would soon be renamed Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, in honor of the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General John A. Lejeune. Early in the Pacific Theater of Operations, the 7th Marines formed the nucleus of the newly created 3rd Marine Brigade and arrived on 8 May 1942 to defend Samoa. On 4 September they were redeployed from the brigade and left Samoa to rejoin the 1st Division at Guadalcanal on 18 September.
Soon after arriving on Guadalcanal, Puller led his battalion in a fierce action along the Matanikau, in which Puller's quick thinking saved three of his companies from annihilation. In the action, these companies were surrounded and cut off by a larger Japanese force. Puller ran to the shore, signaled a United States Navy destroyer, the USS Monssen (DD-436), and then directed it to provide fire support while landing craft rescued his Marines from their precarious position. These actions earned Puller a Bronze Star. (The Monssen was lost in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on 13 November 1942, along with 60% of her crew.)
Puller earned his third Navy Cross on Guadalcanal in what later became known as the Battle for Henderson Field. In this battle, the 1/7 battalion was the only American unit defending the airfield against a regiment-strength Japanese force. In a firefight lasting about three hours on the night of 24-25 October 1942, the 1/7 sustained 70 casualties; the Japanese force suffered over 1,400 killed in action, and Puller's battalion held the airfield. While on Guadalcanal, Puller was twice shot by a sniper and was wounded by shrapnel in three different places, for which he was awarded the Purple Heart. When the Japanese put another offensive across the Matanikau River, the Japanese force was much stronger, and Puller didn't have enough men. But one man, Staff Sergeant John Basilone, saved the entire Regiment with his machine gun and by running back and forth bringing much needed ammunition to his battalion. Puller, while on leave in Melbourne, Australia, put Basilone in for a Medal of Honor, which was personally approved by President Roosevelt.
The 7th Marine Regiment then made Puller its Executive Officer. While serving in this capacity at Cape Gloucester, Puller earned a fourth Navy Cross for his overall performance of duty between 26 December 1943 and 19 January 1944. The citation accompanying the Navy Cross reports his actions: "For extraordinary heroism as Executive Officer of the Seventh Marines, First Marine Division, serving with the Sixth United States Army, in combat against enemy Japanese forces at Cape Gloucester, New Britain, from 26 December 1943 to 19 January 1944. Assigned temporary command of the Third Battalion, Seventh Marines, from 4 to 9 January, Lieutenant Colonel Puller quickly reorganized and advanced his unit, effecting the seizure of the objective without delay. Assuming additional duty in command of the Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, from 7 to 8 January, after the commanding officer and executive officer had been wounded, Lieutenant Colonel Puller unhesitatingly exposed himself to rifle, machine-gun and mortar fire from strongly entrenched Japanese positions to move from company to company in his front lines, reorganizing and maintaining a critical position along a fire-swept ridge. His forceful leadership and gallant fighting spirit under the most hazardous conditions were contributing factors in the defeat of the enemy during this campaign and in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
He was promoted to colonel on 1 February 1944 and, by the end of the month, had been named Commander of the 1st Marine Regiment. (During the summer of 1944, Puller's younger brother, Samuel D. Puller, Executive Officer of the 4th Marine Regiment, was killed by a sniper on Guam.)
During September and October 1944, Colonel Puller led the 1st Marine Regiment into what became known as the Battle of Peleliu, one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history. Major General William Rupertus, Commander of 1st Marine Division, predicted the island would be secured within four days. However, due to Japan's well-crafted fortifications and stiff resistance, the battle lasted over two months. It remains one of the war's most controversial command decisions because of the island's questionable strategic value and the very high death toll. Considering the number of men involved, Peleliu had the highest casualty rate of any battle in the Pacific War. The National Museum of the Marine Corps called it "the bitterest battle of the war for the Marines." The 1st Marine Division was so severely mauled that it remained out of action until the invasion of Okinawa on 1 April 1945. In total the 1st Division suffered over 6,500 casualties during their month on Peleliu, over a third of the entire division. In this action, Chesty Puller earned his first Legion of Merit.
In November 1944, Puller returned to the U.S. and was assigned as Executive Officer of the Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Lejeune; two weeks later, he became its Commanding Officer. After the war, Puller was made Director of the 8th Reserve District at New Orleans, and later commanded the Marine Barracks at Pearl Harbor.
The Korean War
At the outbreak of the Korean War, Puller was once again assigned as Commander of the 1st Marine Regiment, with which he made a landing at Inchon on 15 September 1950, earning his Silver Star. For his leadership from 15 September to 2 November, he was awarded his second Legion of Merit.
The Army awarded Puller the Distinguished Service Cross [the Army DSC is second only to the Medal of Honor] for his actions from 29 November to 5 December of that same year. The citation for the award reads: "The President of the United States of America, under the provisions of the Act of Congress approved 9 July 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Colonel Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller (MCSN: 0-3158), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving as Commanding Officer, First Marines, FIRST Marine Division (Reinforced), in action against enemy aggressor forces in the vicinity of the Chosin Reservoir, Korea, during the period 29 November to 4 December 1950. Colonel Puller's actions contributed materially to the breakthrough of the First Marine Regiment in the Chosin Reservoir area and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service."
Puller was then awarded his fifth Navy Cross for actions during 5-10 December at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. It was during that battle when he made the famous quote, "We've been looking for the enemy for some time now. We've finally found him. We're surrounded. That simplifies things." The citation reads: "For extraordinary heroism as Commanding Officer of the First Marines, First Marine Division (Reinforced), in action against aggressor forces in the vicinity of Koto-ri, Korea, from 5 to 10 December 1950. Fighting continuously in sub-zero weather against a vastly outnumbering hostile force, Colonel Puller drove off repeated and fanatical enemy attacks upon his Regimental defense sector and supply points. Although the area was frequently covered by grazing machine-gun fire and intense artillery and mortar fire, he coolly moved along his troops to insure their correct tactical employment, reinforced the lines as the situation demanded, and successfully defended the perimeter, keeping open the main supply routes for the movement of the Division. During the attack from Koto-ri to Hungnam, he expertly utilized his Regiment as the Division rear guard, repelling two fierce enemy assaults which severely threatened the security of the unit, and personally supervised the care and prompt evacuation of all casualties. By his unflagging determination, he served to inspire his men to heroic efforts in defense of their positions and assured the safety of much valuable equipment which would otherwise have been lost to the enemy. His skilled leadership, superb courage and valiant devotion to duty in the face of overwhelming odds reflect the highest credit upon Colonel Puller and the United States Naval Service."
In January 1951, Puller was promoted to brigadier general and assigned duty as Assistant Division Commander (ADC) of the 1st Marine Division. However, on 24 February, his immediate superior, Major General O. P. Smith, was hastily transferred to command X Corps when its Army commander, Major General Bryant Moore, died. Smith's temporary transfer left Puller in command of his beloved 1st Marine Division. Puller would serve as Division Commander until he completed his tour of duty and returned to the U.S. on 20 May 1951.
The Post - War Period
Puller received promotions to major general and lieutenant general, and served in various command capacities until his retirement (due to health reasons) on 1 November 1955.
In 1966, General Puller attempted to return to active duty to serve in the Vietnam War, but was denied due to his age.
Military Medals and Awards
Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller was the most decorated U.S. Marine in history, receiving the Navy Cross, the Navy's and Marines' second highest award, five times. (The only other person to be so honored was Navy submarine commander Roy Milton Davenport.) With five Navy Crosses and an Army Distinguished Service Cross, the Army's second highest award for valor, Puller received the nation's second highest military award for valor a total of six times. His awards are as follows:
U.S. Military Awards
Navy Cross with 4 Gold Stars
Haitian Medaille Militaire
Namesakes and Other Honors
In addition to his military awards, Chesty Puller received numerous honors due to his service in the Marine Corps.
USS Lewis B. Puller (FFG-23)
The guided-missile frigate USS Lewis B. Puller (FFG-23) was named after Chesty. Lewis B. Puller was laid down on 23 May 1979, launched on 15 March 1980, and commissioned on 17 April 1982.
The headquarters building for 2nd Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team on Yorktown Naval Weapons Station in Yorktown, Virginia is named Puller Hall in his honor.
On 10 November 2005, the United States Postal Service issued its Distinguished Marines stamps in which Puller was honored.
Marine Corps Mascot
The Marine Corps' mascot is perpetually named "Chesty Pullerton" (e.g. Chesty Pullerton XIII). He is always an English Bulldog.
Lewis Burwell Puller, Jr. (generally known as Lewis Puller), Puller's son, became a highly decorated Marine as a lieutenant in Vietnam. While serving with 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, Lewis Jr. was severely wounded by a mine explosion, losing both legs and parts of his hands. General Puller broke down sobbing at seeing his son for the first time in the hospital.
Marine Colonel William H. Dabney, Puller's son-in-law, was a VMI graduate. As a Captain, Dabney was the Commanding Officer of two heavily reinforced rifle companies of the Third Battalion, Twenty-Sixth Marines from 21 January to 14 April 1968. During that entire period Captain Dabney's force stubbornly defended Hill 881 South, a regional outpost vital to the defense of the Khe Sanh Combat Base during the 77-day siege. Following Khe Sanh, Dabney was nominated for the Navy Cross for his actions on Hill 881 South. Unfortunately, the nomination papers were aboard a helicopter carrying his battalion's executive officer when it crashed-and the papers were destroyed. On 15 April 2005, Colonel William H. Dabney, USMC (Ret) was finally awarded the Navy Cross in a ceremony at Virginia Military Institute for his actions 37 years earlier in Vietnam.
Puller was a distant cousin to another famous hard-charging and decorated general with roots in rural Virginia, U.S. Army General George S. Patton.
Death and Burial
Lieutenant General Lewis Burwell Puller died in Saluda, VA, on 11 October 1971 at the age of 73. He is buried in Christ Church Parish Cemetery, Saluda, Middlesex County, VA.
Puller was the most decorated U.S. Marine in history, receiving the Navy Cross (the Navy's and Marines' second highest award) five times. (He was the second, and only other, person to be so honored. U.S Navy submarine Commander Roy Milton Davenport was the first). With five Navy Crosses and a Distinguished Service Cross (the Army's second highest award for valor), Puller received the nation's second highest military award a total of six times.
Chesty Puller became more than a hero: he was an American Legend. His gruff, 'give'em hell' attitude was admired throughout the Marine Corps. His bravery, and his nickname, were known to the millions of Americans on the home front. He was a man's man, a Marine's Marine.
The following is from "Chesty: The story of Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller" By LtCol Jon T. Hoffman, USMCR - Originally Published by Random House in September 2001. The excerpt offers a brief insight into this famous battle commander.
"Coupled with the fight on the 24th, 1/7's casualties for the operation totaled 91, more than 10 percent of the battalion. The losses included not only the battalion XO but also all three rifle company commanders. As the officers and men returned to the perimeter on the night of 27 Sept., the extent of their losses set in, and morale plummeted.
Puller called his officers together the next day and tried to buck them up. He told them that everyone had to die sometime and doing it for one's country was a fine way to go. Then he stressed what they should learn from their hard-won experience. Above all, he enjoined them to be more than just commanders - he wanted them to lead their men from the front, not simply issue orders to attack. He reminded them what he had been taught since his earliest years: 'That in the Confederate Army, an officer was judged by stark courage alone, and this made it possible for the Confederacy to live four years. There are other qualities in the makeup of a man, but stark courage is absolutely necessary in the makeup of an infantry leader.'
Puller would admit years later: 'I have as much fear in me as the average man. ... [But] for the sake of your men you had to appear fearless.' He believed that he personally had demonstrated his own fearlessness as 'the battalion leader' in the first nine days on the island. His men certainly would have endorsed that opinion. And two weeks later, then full-fledged combat veterans themselves, they would defeat the Japanese soundly in another rematch along the banks of the Matanikau River."
Chesty Puller in Marine Corps Folklore
Chesty Puller remains a well-known figure in Marine Corps folklore, with both true and exaggerated tales of his experiences being constantly recounted by Marines. Here are a few of them:
A common incantation in Marine Corps boot camp is to end one's day with the declaration, "Good night, Chesty Puller, wherever you are!"
In Marine recruit training and Officer Candidate School cadences, Marines chant "It was good for Chesty Puller/And it's good enough for me" - Chesty is symbolic of the esprit de corps of the Marines. Recruits also sing "Chesty Puller was a good Marine and a good Marine was he."
Marines, while doing pull-ups, will tell each other to "Do one for Chesty!"
Chesty was loved by enlisted men for his constant actions to improve their lot. Puller insisted upon good equipment and discipline; once he came upon a second lieutenant who had ordered an enlisted man to salute him 100 times for missing a salute. Chesty told the lieutenant, "You were absolutely correct in making him salute you 100 times lieutenant, but you know that an officer must return every salute he receives. Now return them all."
Famous "Chesty" Quotes:
"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."
"Great. Now we can shoot at those bastards from every direction."
"We're surrounded. That simplifies our problem of getting to these people and killing them." - November 1950, during Chosin Reservoir Campaign
"Remember, you are the 1st Marines! Not all the Communists in Hell can overrun you!" (at the Chosin Reservoir)
"Take me to the Brig. I want to see the real Marines."
"Alright you bastards, try and shoot me!" (yelled to North Korean forces)
"Where do you put the bayonet?" (upon seeing a flamethrower for the first time)
"You don't hurt'em if you don't hit'em."
|Origin of Nickname/Handle:|
Inspired by the 5th Marines performance at the Battle of Belleau Wood (France), in 1918 he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps as a private and attended boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, at Parris Island, SC. He was now Serial No.135517 in the organization where he would eventually become known as "Chesty" Puller; not only for his perfect posture and the fact that his torso somewhat resembled a full-size beer keg full of lead bricks and raw muscle - but also for his absolute fearlessness and devotion to duty.
|Honoree ID: 37||Created by: MHOH|