Forty six years ago today, October 11, 1971, the Marine Corps lost a legend: Lt. Gen Chesty Puller (Lewis B Puller). He was the most decorated Marine in American History, according to the Corps – 5 Navy Crosses, 1 Silver Star, 1 Distinguished Service Cross, and 2 Legion of Merits. And a common thread among them all was his “gallant fighting spirit.”
“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.” Navy Cross award citation for action at Cape Gloucester, New Britain, from 26 December 1943 to 19 January 1944
Lt Gen Puller’s leadership is what endeared him to his troops- he always put them first. Nowhere was that more soundly demonstrated than on Guadalcanal when 400 marines became trapped behind enemy lines.
“When others dithered, Puller acted” – Col Jon Hoffman, USMC
Puller was leading a battalion elsewhere on Guadalcanal. He realized that time was running out for the trapped Marines. He became enraged that his superiors had not come up with a plan to save them.
He used his initiative to figure out what to do and then make it happen, while others were preoccupied with other issues or simply unable to come up with a solution to this difficult problem of a battalion surrounded behind enemy lines.
Puller boarded the destroyer Monssen and worked with the ship’s captain and gunnery officer to come up with a plan to shell the Japanese troops and allow the trapped Marines time and space to withdraw.
The first landing craft to approach the beach where the Marines had gathered came under fire, forcing some to back off.” Marine Col. Jon Hoffman, author of “Chesty: The Story of Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller, USMC.
He wanted to extend his service, but was forced to retire due to health concerns. It never stopped his spirit. Lt Gen Puller encouraged his men to lead, not command. His quips, his calmness in battle gave his men strength. Brave? Yes. Tough? Absolutely. His initiative to do what others would not saved many lives.
“Don’t forget that you’re first Marines! Not all the Communists in hell can overrun you!” Lt Gen “Chesty” Puller