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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Chesty Puller: a Marine's Marine

"Our country won't go on forever, if we stay soft as we are now. There won't be any America--because some foreign soldiery will invade us and take our women and breed a hardier race." Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller

Most Marines only know him as Chesty Puller, or just plain Chesty. He was born June 26, 1898 in West Point, Virginia to Matthew and Martha Puller and his father died when Chesty was ten years old. Chesty was only one of two people, and the only Marine, to be awarded five Navy Crosses; and if you don't know who he was, you were definitely never a member of "Uncle Sam's Misguided Children."

One of Chesty's idols was "Stonewall" Jackson and due to Jackson's war record, Chesty's first instinct was to enlist in the Army to fight the Border War in Mexico in 1916. But he was underage and his mother refused to give her parental consent.

Of course that changed the following year when Chesty attended Virginia Military Institute. He planned to go into the Corps as an officer, but left the following year to fight in World War One. He wanted to "go where the guns are." So he enlisted in the Marines after becoming inspired by the 5th Marines at Belleau Wood, one of the bloodiest battles in the war--a battle where the first Congressional Medal of Honor was awarded to then Gunnery Sergeant Ernest A. Janson.

Chesty went to boot camp at the United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina. (If you were an enlisted man, you might have referred to that great state as "Suck Carolina" because the sand fleas were unforgiving and if you killed one as it munched on your ear as you stood at attention in front of the Mess Hall, you would have to bury it in a hole 6'x6'x6'. Officers didn't go to boot camp at PI, but we had our own problems.) 

By the time the Second World War came about, Chesty Puller was a Colonel and led the 1st Marines in the battle on Peleliu, code name "Operation Stalemate II, perhaps the bloodiest battle in all of Marine Corps history. Of his 3000 men who fought on this small coral island in the Pacific, 1749 were lost.

The landing on Peleliu was at 08:32, 15 September, 1944. The 1st Marines landed to the north on "White Beach 1 and 2" and the 5th and 7th Marines to the center on "Orange Beach 1,2, and 3." Chesty's guys were almost immediately bogged down by heavy fire from their left flank and Chesty barely escaped death when a dud artillary round struck his landing craft (LVT).  In all, the Japanese destroyed 60 LVTs and DUKWs with their 47 mm guns and 20 mm canons.

 For his action, Chesty was awarded two Legion of Merits.

Chesty was once again assigned to the 1st Marine Regiment at the outbreak of the Korean War and was at the landing at Inchon on September 15th, 1950. He racked up another Legion of Merit and a Silver Star Medal and the Army awarded him with a Distinguished Service Cross for action from November 29 to December 5th. 

His fifth Navy Cross came during the fighting at the "Frozen Chosin" from December 5-10, 1950 where he made his famous quote: "We've been looking for the enemy for some time now. We've finally found him. We're surrounded. That simplifies things." He might have also been the one to have said: "Great. Now we can shoot at those bastards from every direction."

Another famous Chosin Reservoir quote from Chesty: "Remember, you are the 1st Marines! Not all the Communists in Hell can overrun you!"

In a letter to his wife while fighting in Korea, Chesty wrote of the Air Force: "The mail service has been excellent out here, and in my opinion this is all that the Air Force has accomplished during the war."

I know of one story in Marine Corps lore where a Marine, up on a mountain, was cold and scared during the night. There was a lull in the action and the Marine was worried the enemy was about to attack. (I believe it was in the Second World War but not 100% certain.) 

Chesty saw the young Marine's rifle barrel shaking and went over to his position, stood in front with his back to the Marine, facing out toward the night. "Prop the barrel against my leg to hold it steady," he said, exposing himself to the enemy. "If I see any of them, I`ll let you know and you can shoot the bastard."

They say that kid would have followed Chesty through the gates of hell, but Joe Biden already stole that line.

Finally, I know of one more story where an Army captain asked Chesty for the line of direction of retreat, if things got too dicey. 

Chesty called his Tank Commander and gave him the coordinates of the Army troops the Captain was referring to. Then he told the Tank Commander: "If they start to pull back from that line, even one foot, I want you to open fire on them." 

Chesty then turned to the Captain and said, "Does that answer your question?"

If Chesty were still in command today, I predict there would be beer dispensers in all Marine Corps Mess Halls and, if he were allowed to command the war against ISIS, there would be a lot of dead camel jockeys.

They don't make 'em like that anymore.