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Lieutenant General Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller (June 26, 1898 – October 11, 1971) was an officer in the United States Marine Corps. Puller is the most decorated U.S. Marine in history, and the only Marine to receive five Navy Crosses, the United States Navy's and Marines' second highest decoration after the Medal of Honor. During his career, he fought guerrillas in Haitimarker and Nicaraguamarker, and participated in some of the bloodiest battles of World War II and the Korean War. Puller retired from the Marine Corps in 1955, spending the rest of his life in Virginiamarker.

Interwar years

Puller attended the Virginia Military Institutemarker but left at the end of his first year as World War I was still ongoing, saying that he wanted to go where the guns are, although he never saw action in that war. During the interwar period, Puller was appointed to the pay grade of Second Lieutenant in the reserves on June 16, 1919, but reduction in force following the war led to his being put on inactive status on the 26th of that month.

Puller then opted to serve in the Gendarmerie d'Haiti as an enlisted man, seeing action in Haiti. While the United States was working under a treaty with Haiti, he participated in over forty engagements during the ensuing five years against the Caco rebels. In March 1924, he returned stateside and was again commissioned as a Second Lieutenant (service number O3158), afterward completing assignments at the Marine Barracksmarker in Norfolk, Virginiamarker, The Basic School in Quantico, Virginiamarker, and with the 10th Marine Artillery Regiment in Quantico, Virginiamarker. He was assigned to the Marine Barracks at Pearl Harbormarker, Hawaiimarker in July 1926 and in San Diego, Californiamarker in 1928.

In December 1928, Puller was assigned to the Nicaraguanmarker National Guard detachment, where he earned his first Navy Cross for his actions from Feb 16 to Aug 19, 1930. He returned stateside in July 1931 and completed the year-long Company Officers Course at Fort Benning, Georgiamarker, thereafter returning to Nicaragua from Sep 20-Oct 01, 1932 to earn a second Navy Cross for leading "five successive engagements against superior numbers of armed bandit forces, also known as the cacos bandits, which in turn caused a lot of problems for Chesty".

After his service in Nicaragua, Puller was assigned to the Marine detachment at the American Legation in Beijing, Chinamarker commanding a unit of China Marines. He then went on to serve aboard , a 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 to serve as the executive officer of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines. He later served as its commanding officer.

World War II

Puller on Guadalcanal in September, 1942.
Major Puller returned to the U.S. on August 28, 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, the new Marine amphibious base which would soon be renamed for the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, John A. Lejeune, MCB Camp Lejeunemarker, North Carolinamarker. Early in the Pacific theater the 7th Marines formed the nucleus of the newly created 3rd Marine Brigade and arrived to defend Samoa on May 8, 1942. Later they were redeployed from the Brigade and on September 4, 1942, they left Samoa and rejoined the 1st Division at Guadalcanalmarker on September 18, 1942.

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, three of Puller's companies were surrounded and cut-off by a larger Japanese force. Puller ran to the shore, signaled a United States Navy destroyer, and then directed the destroyer to provide fire support while landing craft rescued his Marines from their precarious position, actions that earned his Bronze Star. Later on Guadalcanal, Puller earned his third Navy Cross for action that was later known as the "Battle for Henderson Fieldmarker", in which the 1/7 battalion was the only American unit defending the airfield against a regiment-strength Japanesemarker force. In a firefight on the night of October 24–25, 1942, lasting about three hours, 1/7 sustained 70 casualties; the Japanese force suffered over 1,400 killed in action, and the battalion held the airfield. While on Guadacanal, Puller was shot by a sniper twice and wounded by shrapnel in three different places; he was awarded the Purple Heart.

Following this action, Puller was made executive officer of the 7th Marine Regiment. While serving in this capacity at Cape Gloucestermarker, Puller earned his fourth Navy Cross for overall performance of duty between December 26, 1943 and January 19, 1944. During this time, when the battalion commanders of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines and, later, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, while under heavy machine gun and mortar fire, he expertly reorganized the battalion and led the successful attack against heavily fortified Japanese defensive positions. He was promoted to Colonel effective 1 February 44 and by the end of the month, had been named Commander of the 1st Marine Regiment. Colonel Puller would lead the 1st Marines into the protracted battle on Peleliu, one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history during September and October 1944, action where he earned his first Legion of Merit. Also during the summer 1944, Puller's younger brother, Samuel D. Puller, the Executive Officer of the 4th Marine Regiment, was killed by a sniper on Guam.

Puller returned to the United States in November 1944, was named executive officer of the Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Lejeunemarker and, two weeks later, Commanding Officer. After the war, he was made Director of the 8th Reserve District at New Orleans, Louisianamarker, and later commanded the Marine Barracks at Pearl Harbormarker.

Korean War

Colonel Puller cutting the Marine Corps birthday cake on November 10, 1950, during a brief reprieve from battle during the Korean War

At the outbreak of the Korean conflict, Puller was once again assigned as commander of the 1st Marine Regiment, with which he made a landing at Inchonmarker on September 15, 1950, earning his Silver Star. For leadership from September 15 to November 2, he was awarded his second Legion of Merit. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross from the Army for action from November 29 to December 5 of that same year, and his fifth Navy Cross during 5 to 10 December for action at the Battle of Chosin Reservoirmarker. 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." In January, 1951, Puller was promoted to Brigadier General and was assigned duty as assistant division commander (ADC) of the 1st Marine Division. On February 24, however, his immediate superior, Major General O. P. Smith, was hastily transferred to command X Corps when its army commander, Major General Moore, was killed. Smith’s temporary transfer left Puller in command of his beloved 1st Marine Division. Puller would serve as ADC until he completed his tour of duty and returned to the United States on May 20, 1951.
Colonel Puller studies the terrain during the Korean War.

General Puller subsequently received promotions to Major General and Lieutenant General, and served in various command capacities until his retirement due to health reasons on November 1, 1955.

Later life and burial

Chesty Puller Grave Marker on Highway 33

Marines often adamantly allege that Chesty Puller was never awarded the Medal of Honor due to pressure from senior Army officers and even President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the retired hero general of the US invasion of Europe in WW2. Marines still claim that senior Army officers hated Puller out of inter-service rivalry, jealousy and due to vocal and disparaging comments Puller often made about some Army units that he felt did not fight admirably along the way of the escape from Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War.

Earlier in the war he was reported to have ordered Marines to gather all abandoned Army equipment of withdrawing soldiers and put it to good use. He later reportedly told an Army colonel who demanded return of the equipment: "It all has USMC markings on it now and if you want it back, kick my ass." The equipment remained in possession of the Marines.

Adding to a conspiracy theory is the fact that when Puller passed out in the heat, while inspecting a formation of Marines in 1955, he was ordered to Walter Reed Army Hospital for cardiac testing by the defense department, vs. Bethesda Naval Hospital. Bethesda is a Navy facility, staffed largely by Navy doctors, nurses and medical personnel and it has historically treated primarily naval personnel (Marines, Sailors and Coast Guard personnel). The official reason stated by the Defense Department for sending Puller to Walter Reed vs. Bethesda was that Walter Reed had a better cardiac diagnostic lab. The cardiac lab was greatly expanded during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower, who as a President and a famous retired Army 5-star general, preferred to be treated at an Army medical facility. Puller felt it was in fact a pretext to implement a conspiracy to remove him, insisting he had simply been overcome by the heat.

Following a series of cardiac tests at Walter Reed, Puller was found by Army cardiologists to have a weakened heart. He was then ordered into involuntary medical retirement, thus preventing him from becoming a possible future candidate for Commandant of the Marine Corps. He was denied appeals through Navy medical channels to get a medical waiver, allowing him to remain on active duty. He was embittered by that chapter in his life, feeling the Army had cut him off at the knees and "stacked the deck" against him, ensuring he was gotten rid of.

Puller and his wife, Virginia McCandlish Puller, retired to a quiet life in rural Virginia. He would always welcome all passing or visiting Marines in his home and would gladly talk to them about the Marine Corps. A visit to Chesty Puller at his home was considered a pilgrimage by many Marines, young and old alike, especially those who served under his command.

In 1965, Puller requested he be reinstated into the Marine Corps in order to see action in the Vietnam War, but the request was denied on the basis of his age.

Puller died on October 11, 1971 in Saluda, Virginiamarker at age 73 and was buried in Christchurch Parish Cemetery on the southeast side of Christchurch School off Highway 33 (also called "General Puller Highway") in Christchurch, Virginia. General Puller's widow, Virginia, died in 2006 at the age of 97 and was buried next to him.


Puller's son Lewis Burwell Puller, Jr. (generally known as Lewis Puller) also became a highly-decorated Marine as a lieutenant in Vietnam. While serving with 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines he was severely disabled and confined to a wheelchair by a mine explosion, losing both legs, an eye, parts of his hands and one arm. He went to law school and became an attorney for the Department of Defense. Lewis Puller ran an unsuccessful campaign for Congress and later admitted to being embittered over losing his bid as Democratic candidate for the US House of Representatives to later-US Senator Paul Tribble. Unlike his father, the younger Puller was a liberal Democrat. He was a writer-in-residence at George Mason University in Fairfax Virginia. His book "Fortunate Son" reflected on his life as the son of the most decorated Marine in history, his tour in Vietnam and his struggles after the war. He committed suicide in 1994 and was buried with full military honors.

His wife said at the time "To the list of names of victims of the Vietnam War, add the name of Lewis Puller ... He suffered terrible wounds that never really healed."

General Puller was father-in-law to Colonel William H. Dabney, a VMI graduate, who, as a Captain, received the Navy Cross for his leadership as Commanding Officer of two heavily reinforced rifle companies of the Third Battalion, Twenty-Sixth Marines from 21 January to 14 April 1968. During the entire period, Colonel Dabney's force stubbornly defended Hill 881S, a regional outpost vital to the defense of the Khe Sanh Combat Base during the 77-day siege. Puller was distant cousin to another famous hard-charging and decorated General with familial roots in rural Virginia, Army general George Smith Patton.

Awards and honors

Puller was the most decorated U.S. Marine in history and one of only two people to receive the Navy Cross, the Navy's and Marines' second highest decoration, five times (the other being Navy submarine commander Roy Milton Davenport). With five Navy Crosses and a Distinguished Service Cross, the Army's second highest decoration, Puller received the nation's second highest military decoration a total of six times.

Military awards

1st Row Navy Cross w/ 4 award stars Distinguished Service Cross Silver Star
2nd Row Legion of Merit w/ 1 award star & valor device Bronze Star w/ valor device Purple Heart Air Medal w/ 2 award stars
3rd Row Navy Presidential Unit Citation w/ 4 service stars Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal w/ 1 service star Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal w/ 1 service star World War I Victory Medal w/ West Indies clasp
4th Row Haitian Campaign Medal Nicaraguan Campaign Medal China Service Medal American Defense Service Medal w/ Base clasp
5th Row American Campaign Medal Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/ 4 service stars World War II Victory Medal National Defense Service Medal
6th Row Korean Service Medal w/ 5 service stars Haitian Medaille Militaire Nicaraguan Presidential Medal of Merit w/ Diploma Nicaraguan Cross of Valor with Diploma
7th Row Order of Military Merit, Eulji Cordon Medal Chinese Order of the Cloud and Banner Korean Presidential Unit Citation United Nations Korea Medal

First Navy Cross citation

:"For distinguished service in the line of his professional 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."

Second Navy Cross citation

:"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, 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."

Third Navy Cross citation

:"For extraordinary heroism as Commanding Officer of the First Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division, during the action against enemy Japanese forces on Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, on the night of 24 to 25 October 1942.
While Lieutenant Colonel Puller’s battalion was holding a mile-long front in a heavy downpour of rain, a Japanese force, superior in number, launched a vigorous assault against that position of the line which passed through a dense jungle.
Courageously withstanding the enemy’s desperate and determined attacks, Lieutenant Colonel Puller not only held his battalion to its position until reinforcements arrived three hours later, but also effectively commanded the augmented force until late in the afternoon of the next day.
By his tireless devotion to duty and cool judgment under fire, he prevented a hostile penetration of our lines and was largely responsible for the successful defense of the sector assigned to his troops."

Fourth Navy Cross citation

:"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."

Fifth Navy Cross citation

:"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."

Distinguished Service Cross citation

PULLER, USMC for extraordinary heroism in military operation against an armed enemy: Colonel Lewis B.
Puller, 03158, United States Marine Corps, Commanding Officer, 1st Regiment, 1st Marine Division, distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy during the period 29 November to 4 December 1950.
His actions contributed materially to the breakthrough of the 1st Marine Regiment in the Chosin Reservoir area and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.

Namesakes and honors

In addition to his military awards Chesty Puller has received numerous honors due to his Marine Corps service.

USS Lewis B. Puller (FFG-23)

The frigate Lewis B. Puller was named after him.

Puller Hall

The headquarters building for 2nd Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team on Yorktown Naval Weapons Stationmarker in Yorktown, Virginiamarker is named Puller Hall in his honor.

Postage stamp

On November 10, 2005, the United States Postal Service issued its Distinguished Marines stamps in which Puller was honored.

Marine Corps mascot

The Marine Corps's mascot is perpetually named "Chesty Pullerton." (e.g. Chesty Pullerton XIII) He is always an English Bulldog.

Chesty Puller in Marine Corps culture

Chesty Puller remains a well known figure in Marine Corps folklore, with both true and exaggerated tales of his experiences being constantly recounted in the U.S. Marine Corps.

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 military recruit training and OCS 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.

Chesty is 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."

While on duty in Hawaii and inspecting the armory, Puller fined himself $100 for discharging a .45 caliber pistol, although the charge for his men was only $20.


  • "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!" (to 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."

See also


  1. Burke Davis, Marine! The Life of Chesty Puller, (Bantam Books, 1991 reprint)
  2. [1]


External links

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