For U.S. Marines, there are few names that come with as much recognition and admiration than Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller. From a your first day at recruit training to your last day in boots, the ghost of Chesty Puller is a constant source of motivation — as Marines on the pull-up bar do “one more for Chesty!” and commanders on the battlefield and in garrison quote the legendary leader in everything from hip-pocket classes to formal periods of instruction.
Chesty Puller is a part of the very fabric that binds Marines across the ages to one another, and as such, his memory is as much a part of a Marine’s DNA as a bad attitude and mean right hook. It doesn’t matter if you’re a troubled Lance Corporal that can’t seem to earn his second stripe or a squared away Colonel setting the example for your troops, there’s a Chesty story, quote, or axiom that resonates with you.
Puller was born on June 26, 1898, and just in case you aren’t already familiar with this particular breed of Devil Dog, here are some great quotations and facts about the Corps’ most idolized leader.
Chesty Puller was the most decorated Marine in the history of the Corps
For many Marines, their introduction to Chesty Puller comes right from the start of recruit training, with Drill Instructors instilling the names and accomplishments of great Marines as a part of the running and screaming boot camp experience. There’s good reason for such an early introduction. Puller was the only Marine to ever earn the Navy Cross on five separate occasions, and that’s not the end of his incredible tenacity for collecting medals.
Lest you think Puller was an award chaser, his massive ribbon rack was earned through some of the most intense fighting of the Korean and second World Wars. Puller led Marines in Guadalcanal, Peleliu, Inchon, and the Chosin Reservoir, just to name a few. Each of these battles have earned their own places in “Marine Corps knowledge” courses for good reason, and Puller’s leadership throughout played an integral role in each historic event.
“We’ve been looking for the enemy for some time now. We’ve finally found him. We’re surrounded. That simplifies things.” – Chesty Puller
Under the command of (then) Colonel Puller, the 1st Marine Division’s heroic stand at the Chosin Reservoir has become the stuff of legend. Marines operating in North Korea were already facing brutal winter weather when they found themselves squaring off with a Chinese force that vastly outnumbered them. In order to escape the situation with as much man and firepower intact as possible, two options were floated: abandoning heavy weapons and equipment for a rapid withdrawal, or “attacking in another direction” and fighting their way through Chinese forces to the nearest port. Ultimately, the decision was made to do the latter.
Puller’s 1st Marine Division was tasked with fighting in frigid winter weather of -34 degrees Celsius, but despite the overwhelming odds and harrowing conditions, the tactical withdrawal was a success. In terms of territory, the Chinese forces had won the day, but at great cost. Puller’s 1st Marine Division lost 4,385 men to combat and another 7,338 to the harsh cold as they fought their way through hostile territory. Estimates of Chinese forces lost or injured in the fighting, however, range from 40,000 to 80,000 troops. Puller’s legacy, some contend, was already secured at that point.
A bayonet for every flame thrower
Even among other military leaders, Puller had a reputation for preferring direct action over fanciful maneuvers, and according to Major General Oliver P. Smith, Puller was at his best while embroiled in combat. It could be argued that it was Puller’s affinity for close quarters battle that made him so beloved by his troops.
While Marines characterized Puller as a tough guy with a warm heart, it was the tough guy in him that prompted him to ask one simple question when being shown how to use a flamethrower for the first time during World War II:
“Where the hell do you put the bayonet?”
It’s worth noting that the M2 flamethrower used by American troops in World War II could shoot liquid hellfire at targets as far away as 130 feet, but as far as Puller was concerned, you still ought to be able to stab a guy with it for good measure.