Camp Pendleton Chosin Reservoir Distinguished Service Cross Edson's Ridge Guadalcanal Henderson Field Korean War medal of honor Movies Pacific Theater Pearl Harbor Philippines Silver Star Solomon Islands United States Marine Corps Veterans Administration virginia military institute West Point military academy WWII

Warfare History Network » Soldier Bios: Lewis ‘Chesty’ Puller

Legendary U.S. Marine Colonel Lewis
Legendary U.S. Marine Colonel Lewis 'Chesty' Puller proved himself on the world’s most difficult battlefields.

Legendary U.S. Marine Colonel Lewis ‘Chesty’ Puller proved himself on the world’s most troublesome battlefields.

by Michael D. Hull

Crouched of their foxholes alongside Edson’s Ridge on Guadalcanal within the Solomon Islands, the Marines shaped a essential however skinny protection line between strategic Henderson Area and seasoned Japanese infantry lurking within the jungle. It was a depressing place to be. Heavy rains had swept the large island for a number of days, and the younger Leathernecks—most of them unschooled in fight—knew that hassle was coming. The airfield was very important to each the People and the Japanese.

October 24, 1942, was a busy day for the first Battalion as the lads deepened their soggy foxholes, rigorously organized mortars and machine weapons, crammed sandbags, and carried ammunition. Overseeing their efforts was a barrel-chested lieutenant colonel with a craggy face and excessive brow who chewed on a cigar and spouted a mix of encouragement and profanity. Round his neck was an Episcopal Church crusader’s cross, and in considered one of his battle-fatigue pockets a dog-eared copy of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars.

Legendary U.S. Marine Colonel Lewis 'Chesty' Puller proved himself on the world’s most difficult battlefields.

His identify was Lewis Burwell Puller, a Virginian, and a much-decorated legend within the U.S. Marine Corps. He was blunt spoken and didn’t mince his phrases. He walked with a belligerent thrust to his sq. jaw, and his chest was thrown out like a bantam rooster’s. He was generally known as “Chesty” by everybody within the Corps.

He was revered by all; he was a soldier’s soldier who would stand agency when the going obtained tough. He was noisily loyal to the service, and had contempt for weak spot in males, demanding solely the most effective from his males, they usually knew they might rely on him.

Tin Cans and Hand Grenades

Up and down the two,500-yard sector manned by his understrength battalion, Puller walked the road. He checked each gun place and ordered enhancements. He, too, knew that every little thing was too quiet and that it will not final. Chesty ordered his males to string barbed wire from the timber, hung with tin cans filled with stones and hand grenades with their pins half pulled. This would offer a warning when the enemy began shifting.

Nightfall got here on, after which darkness. Rumors swept the foxholes about Japanese actions within the jungle progress past the protection line. Chesty stated to considered one of his sergeants main, “Shep, we’ll in all probability get combined up in a scrap tonight. The climate is true, and the moon gained’t be a lot. It’ll rain like hell, and Nips are on the market.”

The first Battalion was prepared because the rain started to fall once more. Round 9:30 pm, a report got here that Japanese have been chopping the barbed wire in entrance of one in every of Puller’s corporations. He spoke to his males on the sector phone circuit, “All proper. Let’s get this straight. Maintain your hearth till you get an order from me…. If the bastards break via, use the bayonet. And hold somebody at each telephone. Wait.”

Chesty changed the receiver and glanced at his watch. It was 10 pm. All of the sudden, there got here yells from the correct flank: “Blood for the emperor! Marine, you die!” Chesty instantly ordered, “Begin firing!” The entrance exploded in a din of small-arms hearth and artillery shells roaring by means of the rainstorm, and blasts within the black jungle halted Japanese columns.

A Collection of More and more Ferocious Assaults

However the enemy spearhead stormed the wire alongside a slender entrance, and their grenades blew holes within the Marines’ crude fencing. The enemy troops bumped into murderous hearth from Puller’s rigorously interlocked machine weapons, and lots of have been mowed down. Chesty stalked up and down the road, encouraging and directing his males because the Japanese smashed once more on the 1st Battalion. With fanatical braveness, the enemy infantry was making an attempt to compensate for the tactical failings of its officers.

The assaults got here in waves, at the very least one each hour, and with growing ferocity. Marine weapons started to warmth up and provides out, and Chesty frightened about ammunition. He pleaded on the phone with the artillery to “give us all you’ve received.” He yelled, “We’re holding on by our toenails!”

By about three within the morning, after fixed hearth and eight enemy assaults, Puller estimated that his battalion was right down to about 500 males. They have been holding on, however Chesty requested regimental headquarters for assist. Recent troops of the Military’s 164th Infantry Regiment have been guided by a Navy chaplain to Puller’s line, and he was glad to see them. The harried Leathernecks had no time to greet the “doggies” with the standard derision.

For the inexperienced GIs, beneath pouring rain and within the midst of a howling Japanese assault, it was a fearsome baptism of fireside. However the troopers, typically preventing shoulder to shoulder with the Marines, helped to push again wave after wave of enemy troops. A 75-yard wedge in Puller’s line was straightened with assistance from mortars as daylight approached.

Operating into the Hearth:1,462 Enemy Casualties

The weary Leathernecks and troopers started to breathe extra simply because the Japanese onslaught waned and the invaders who had not been reduce down by Puller’s machine gunners retreated into the jungle. Stray enemy troopers have been shot or taken prisoner, and Chesty’s males straightened their line, tended to their wounded and the smoking weapons, and counted our bodies. Through the morning of October 25, the People discovered 250 Japanese lifeless contained in the strains, 25 of them officers. Altogether, a burial element tallied and buried 1,462 enemy our bodies. Puller’s casualties throughout that momentous night time amounted to 19 lifeless, 30 wounded, and 12 lacking.

Legendary U.S. Marine Colonel Lewis 'Chesty' Puller proved himself on the world’s most difficult battlefields.

The first Battalion had repulsed suicidal assaults by three enemy regiments and a part of a brigade. It was a basic feat of arms for the battalion, and Chesty was proud. When congratulated by Colonel Bryant E. Moore, commander of the 164th Military Regiment, for the best way he had blooded the GIs, Puller replied, “They’re virtually nearly as good as Marines, Colonel.”

The battalion and its firm commanders have been recommended, and Chesty gained a second gold star for his Navy Cross. One in every of his sergeants, “Manila John” Basilone, was awarded the Medal of Honor. He was the primary enlisted Marine to win the nation’s highest ornament in World Conflict II.

Lewis Burwell Puller was born on June 26, 1898, and was raised within the Virginia city of West Level. Weaned on the tales of his 17th-century militia ancestors and Accomplice veterans, he knew early in life that he needed a army profession. His hero was Andrew Jackson, whom he considered “fitted for struggle by pure instincts, by research, and by self-discipline.”

“I Need to Go The place the Weapons Are”

Younger Lewis entered the time-honored Virginia Army Institute. Whereas a “rat” there in 1917, he recalled later, “the Military took all our rifles. I figured in the event that they wanted our rifles, they wanted me.” So he dropped out on the finish of his freshman yr to enlist within the Marine Corps in August 1918, as a result of he might achieve a fee on the age of 20. “I need to go the place the weapons are,” he stated merely. He was appointed a second lieutenant within the Marine Reserve in June 1919 however, due to the discount of the Corps after World Conflict I, he was positioned on inactive obligation that very same month. It was a bitter disappointment for the robust younger Virginian.

Nevertheless, Chesty was decided. So he once more joined the Marine Corps as an enlisted man. He had heard about jungle preventing happening in Haiti so volunteered for service there. He soldiered within the Gendarmerie d’Haiti, a army pressure arrange underneath a treaty with the USA. Most of its officers have been U.S. Marines, whereas the enlisted males have been Haitians. As each a Marine corporal and a primary lieutenant within the Gendarmerie, he noticed loads of motion whereas battling revolutionaries within the tangled, steaming jungles of the Caribbean island. He took half in 40 engagements throughout his five-year hitch and was awarded the Haitian Army Medal.

Returning to america in 1924, Puller was once more commissioned within the Marine Corps. After service on the Marine Barracks in Norfolk, Va.; finishing the Primary Faculty at Philadelphia; and serving with the 10th Marine Regiment at Quantico, Virginia, he shipped out in July 1926 for a two-year tour of obligation on the Marine Barracks at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He took cost of the rifle vary however quickly turned bored and requested for a switch to Nicaragua, the place the bandit chief Sandino was stirring up hassle.

Chesty Was a Disciplined, however Imaginative Soldier

Puller shipped out from San Diego, Calif., to Nicaragua in December 1928, and signed up as a captain within the Nicaraguan Nationwide Guard. He led models in 60 battles towards insurgents and was awarded the Navy Cross for gallantry and management. Then it was again to america to take the corporate officers’ course within the Military Infantry Faculty at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was an professional rifle shot and drillmaster and confirmed sprint and sound judgment, although he would later admit that he discovered extra concerning the artwork of conflict as a teenager whereas searching within the woods round his hometown than in any army faculty.

He was a stickler for smartness and believed that one of the best troopers are disciplined troopers. But, he typically couldn’t resist upsetting established order. As soon as whereas engaged in a subject maneuver towards a horse-cavalry regiment at Fort Benning, Puller deserted the techniques he was presupposed to be studying and gained the encounter by stampeding the horses with a tank.

One other stint in Nicaragua in the summertime of 1932 introduced him his second Navy Cross, and the next January he sailed from San Francisco to hitch the Marine detachment on the U.S. Legation in Peiping, China. He commanded the famed Horse Marines there, after which he went to sea to steer the Marine detachment aboard the cruiser USS Augusta of the Asiatic Fleet. After spending three years as an teacher on the Philadelphia Primary Faculty and one other yr aboard the Augusta, Chesty joined the 4th Marine Regiment at Shanghai, China, in Might 1940. He served as a battalion government and commanding officer till returning residence in August 1941.

Legendary U.S. Marine Colonel Lewis 'Chesty' Puller proved himself on the world’s most difficult battlefields.

That September he was given command of the first Battalion of the seventh Regiment, 1st Marine “Previous Breed” Division, at Camp Lejeune, NC. The regiment was indifferent in March 1942 and headed for the Pacific Theater the next month as a part of the third Marine Brigade. In September 1942, the seventh Regiment rejoined the first Division, which had invaded Guadalcanal and Tulagi within the Solomons on August 7, in America’s first offensive of World Warfare II.

After Military Maj. Gen. Alexander M. Patch’s Americal Division relieved the Leathernecks on Guadalcanal, Puller turned government officer of the seventh Marine Regiment. In that capability, he took half within the invasion of Cape Gloucester, New Britain. The first Marine Division landed there on December 26, 1943, secured a beachhead, and captured two airfields in onerous preventing. When the commanders of two battalions have been wounded, Chesty took over their models and moved by means of heavy machine-gun and mortar hearth to reorganize them. He led them in capturing a strongly fortified enemy place and picked up his fourth Navy Cross.

“This Ain’t a Regiment. We’re Simply Survivors.”

Greater than a thousand Japanese defenders have been killed within the Cape Gloucester marketing campaign, which ended on January 16, 1944, when a ultimate enemy counterattack was destroyed.

After taking command of the first Marine Regiment, Colonel Puller took half within the securing of the Russell Islands in February 1944, after which distinguished himself in one of many Marines’ bloodiest actions of the conflict, the invasion of Peleliu within the Palau Islands, 500 miles east of the Philippines. Peleliu was extensively fortified and believed to be defended by 10,200 first-class Japanese troops able to battle to the demise. Admiral William F. Halsey stated later, “I feared one other Tarawa—and I used to be proper.”

At eight:32 am on September 15, 1944, the 28,484 males of the strengthened 1st Marine Division began touchdown on the western seashores of Peleliu, and Chesty Puller’s regiment landed on the left flank to assault the Umurbrogol ridges north of the island’s airfield. It will take 4 days to grab the airfield. Puller additionally had misgivings concerning the operation: The enemy was too properly ready, and the People had too few males in reserve.

The preventing was bitter because the Japanese—properly protected in pillboxes, crags, ridges, and related caves—made the Leathernecks pay for each yard. Firefights and hand-to-hand encounters have been frequent, and the Marines’ ranks have been thinned by mounting casualties, dysentery, and exhaustion. The People have been hampered additional by the 110-degree warmth, hurricane rains, and shortages of rations and water. Chesty Puller’s 1st Regiment suffered 1,672 casualties, 65 %, the very best regimental losses within the historical past of the Marine Corps. Stated one among his sergeants, “This ain’t a regiment. We’re simply survivors.”

A Brutal and Pointless Battle

Eight Medals of Honor have been earned in the course of the two-month marketing campaign, six of them awarded to Leathernecks who coated grenades with their our bodies with a view to save their comrades. The Peleliu motion, which ended on November 25, value the first Marine Division 1,124 killed, 5,zero24 wounded, and 117 lacking. The whole American losses have been 1,794 lifeless and seven,800 wounded, a 40 % casualty price. The enemy losses have been estimated at 10,200 killed and 302 taken prisoner.

Peleliu was later judged to be a brutal and pointless battle, and Navy historian Samuel Eliot Morison stated after the conflict, “Admiral Halsey had the suitable concept; they [the Palaus] ought to have been bypassed.”

The warfare ended for Chesty Puller in November 1944, when he was named government officer of a coaching regiment at Camp Lejeune. He took command early in 1945. He was disenchanted at being out of the capturing warfare, however utilized the fruits of his lengthy profession to coaching Marine recruits.

Colonel Puller’s preventing days weren’t over, nevertheless. The Korean Struggle broke out on June 25, 1950, and after finishing numerous Stateside assignments, he went to Camp Pendleton, Calif., that August to take over the first Marine Regiment, the unit he had gallantly led at Cape Gloucester and Peleliu. North Korean forces had pushed ill-equipped and poorly educated U.S. Military models into the southeastern nook of the Korean peninsula, and the state of affairs was determined. However assist was quickly on the best way within the type of the first Marine Provisional Brigade; the British Commonwealth Brigade; and models from France, Greece, Turkey, and a number of other different nations.

Pushing Ahead With ‘All Velocity’… Right into a Lure?

When Common Douglas MacArthur, the U.N. commander-in-chief, conceived his sensible amphibious invasion of the port of Inchon behind the Communist strains on the western Korean coast, there was a task for Chesty Puller and his regiment. They stormed ashore on the morning of September 15, 1950, in a basic textbook operation, captured Inchon, and pushed 20 miles inland to take Seoul, the traditional capital. After a stiff struggle with heavy casualties, Puller’s regiment battled block by block to regain the town from the Communists. MacArthur pinned the Silver Star on Chesty in recognition of his aggressive, heroic management.

The tide turned, and the U.N. forces superior northward. On October 24, MacArthur ordered all of his commanders to push ahead with “all velocity” towards the Manchurian border, unaware that at the least 180,000 Communist Chinese language troops had slipped into North Korea and have been ready. Lieutenant Basic Walton Walker’s Eighth Military and Maj. Gen. Edward Almond’s X Corps—together with the first Marine Division—superior up the west and east coasts, respectively. They headed straight right into a lure.

Legendary U.S. Marine Colonel Lewis 'Chesty' Puller proved himself on the world’s most difficult battlefields.

Main Common Oliver Prince Smith’s 26,000-man Marine division pushed from the port metropolis of Hungnam to Yudam-ni on the western tip of the Chosin Reservoir, a serious supply of energy for Manchuria. After reaching the “Frozen Chosin,” the Leathernecks have been to push on to the Yalu River. The Communist hammer fell on November 2-7, 1950, because the Marines approached the reservoir.

Snow fell, and the temperatures slipped under zero because the well-trained, stealthy, and cellular Chinese language forces attacked. The Eighth Military was despatched reeling again, and Almond’s X Corps was out on a limb. The first Marine Division, with 4 hooked up Military battalions, was strung out farthest on the Chosin, surrounded by parts of 11 Chinese language divisions and threatened with piecemeal destruction.

America’s Worst Licking Since Pearl Harbor

The Chinese language moved in many times, surrounding and chopping up remoted models, however the Marines held on of their frozen foxholes and bunkers. They beat off assaults for 3 nights from nightfall to daybreak, and ammunition provides and rations ran low. Most of the People have been already affected by frostbite, they usually needed to urinate on their weapons to maintain them from freezing. It was a bitter, uneven wrestle within the unrelenting chilly, however it couldn’t shake Chesty Puller’s preventing spirit. “These poor bastards,” he remarked to an aide, “they’ve received us simply the place we would like them. We will shoot in each course now.”

After managing to regroup, the Marine division was pressured to start its “advance to the rear” in what Newsweek journal referred to as “America’s worst licking since Pearl Harbor.” It will be a preventing retreat. Puller advised his males, “We’ll endure heavy losses. The enemy significantly outnumbers us. They’ve blown the bridges and blocked the roads, however we’ll make it one way or the other.” The primary retreat in Marine Corps’ historical past started for Chesty and his regiment at 7 am on December 6, 1950, once they headed out for his or her operating struggle to the ocean. They have been accompanied by hooked up U.S. and Korean Military models and 235 Royal Marine Commandos.

The lengthy column wound southward down an icy, one-lane street by way of the frozen mountains, repulsing fixed Chinese language assaults from the entrance, each side, and the rear. Marine rifles, mortars, machine weapons, and howitzers stored up a lethal hearth, and supporting Marine F4U Corsair fighters swooped overhead, blasting the enemy with bombs, rockets, and napalm. The bearded, hollow-eyed Leathernecks, who had slept little for every week, subsisted on frozen C rations as they marched southward beside their crawling vans and jeeps. Everybody walked besides the critically wounded.

Ultimately they reached Hagaru, midway on the journey to the port of Hungnam, the place the primary teams of the division can be united. The worst was over. At Hagaru, the Marines ate welcome scorching meals and acquired some sleep, and greater than four,300 wounded and frostbite casualties have been handled and flown out to rear hospitals in C-47s. At Koto-ri, six miles south of Hagaru, on the night time of December eight, bulldozers pushed 117 lifeless Leathernecks, troopers, and Royal Marines right into a mass grave.

A Miracle Retreat for Chesty

The column marched on from Hagaru, now accompanied by the division’s tanks and supported each daylight hour by U.S. fighter-bombers. Chesty Puller’s regiment acted because the rear guard and repelled two fierce enemy assaults. Lastly, after 5 onerous days and nights, the division reached the protection perimeter of the Hamhung-Hungnam port space by 9 pm on December 11, 1950. Exhausted, shivering, filthy, and hungry, the Marines and their hooked up comrades had misplaced a 3rd of their complement to enemy motion and climate, however that they had introduced all of their weapons and gear with them.

The newspapers referred to as it a miracle, and MacArthur stated it was “probably the most profitable strategic retreats in historical past, comparable with and markedly just like Wellington’s nice [Iberian] Peninsula withdrawal.”

For his half within the breakout, Puller was awarded the Military’s Distinguished Service Cross and his fifth Navy Cross. He was promoted to brigadier common and named assistant commander of the first Marine Division. After additional obligation at Camp Pendleton, Coronado, California, and Camp Lejeune, and being promoted to main basic, he turned significantly sick in August 1954. He entered the Camp Lejeune hospital a yr later and was retired on the short-term incapacity listing with the rank of lieutenant common on November 1, 1955.

In Might 1965, the veteran warrior requested Basic Wallace M. Greene, the Marine Corps’ commandant, to return him to lively obligation and provides him a fight command. “I’m drained and ashamed to look the taxpayers of america within the face,” he stated. However he was turned down. So, the veteran of three many years of campaigning and probably the most adorned man in Marine Corps’ historical past, needed to content material himself with a tranquil life at his residence in Saluda in tidewater Virginia, tending his flower backyard and having fun with spouse Virginia’s ham and crushed biscuits. However he stored in contact with the Corps, and his door was all the time open to former comrades. He appreciated to say, “Previous breed …­ new breed. All that issues is the Marine breed.”

Remembering the Brave ‘Soldier’s Soldier’

And the Corps by no means forgot Chesty Puller. Its bulldog mascot on the Marine Barracks in Washington, DC, was named Chesty. He wore sergeant’s stripes as a result of, whereas Puller beloved all Marines, his favorites have been the sergeants.

The previous soldier lastly gave up the battle and died on the age of 73 on October 11, 1971, on the Veterans Administration Hospital in Hampton, Virginia.

They buried him at excessive midday on a crisp fall day in a household plot at Christ’s Church Cemetery in Middlesex County, Virginia. Three rifle volleys rattled out in salute, and the skinny notes of faucets echoed throughout the distant churchyard. They have been all there, greater than 1,500 Marines and former Marines, pink-cheeked recruits from Quantico, and leathery previous timers who remembered Chesty’s braveness and compassion for his males. The corps commandant was there, and so have been 20 generals.

As his pal, Colonel Robert D. Heinl, stated, “They buried him within the yard of his nation parish church and left him alone together with his glory.”

Chesty Puller’s medals are on show within the VMI Museum’s Corridor of Valor. Apart from 5 Navy Crosses, the Military Distinguished Service Cross, and the Silver Star, Chesty wore two Legions of Benefit, two Bronze Stars, the Air Medal, and the Purple Coronary heart.