Note: This is a repeat of a blog post from our days as fulltime RVers.
In a small church cemetery alongside a road in rural Middlesex County, Virginia, we came across the grave of a true American hero.
Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller was a small-town boy who went on to become one of the most decorated United States Marines that ever lived.
Puller was born and raised on the bank of the York River, in West Point, Virginia. His father died when the boy was just ten years old, and he grew up listening to the local veterans’ stories of the Civil War, which had ended just 33 years before his birth. Young Puller idolized Stonewall Jackson and longed to be a soldier. When Mexican insurgents led by Pancho Villa raided Columbus, New Mexico in 1916, and the Army was sent to the border to catch and punish them, Puller tried to enlist in the Army but was turned away because he was too young.
For a brief time, Puller attended the Virginia Military Institute, but he resigned to join the United States Marine Corps, hoping to see action in World War I. While he did not get into the fighting in that war, the Marines quickly realized his potential and sent him to Officer Candidates School at Quantico, Virginia. Upon graduation in 1919, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
Over the next 36 years, he would become a legend, the only Marine to be awarded five Navy Crosses, among his 27 awards and decorations, that also included the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart. He fought guerrillas in Haiti and Nicaragua, the Japanese in the South Pacific during World War II, and the communists during the Korean War, distinguishing himself in battle after battle, rising to the rank of major general.
Revered by his men because he always put them first and fought beside them in the face of the enemy instead of staying safely ensconced behind the lines, Puller was an outspoken officer who was frequently quoted in the news. When told his position was surrounded, he responded, “Great. Now we can shoot at those bastards from every direction.” On another occasion, unhappy with what he saw during a battalion inspection, Puller said, “Take me to the Brig. I want to see the “real Marines.”
There are many stories about General Puller, including the time he watched a young second lieutenant order an enlisted man to salute him 100 times for forgetting to salute. When the Marine was done, Puller 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, and I will keep count.” Another time, while inspecting an armory, Puller accidentally discharged a .45 caliber pistol indoors. Although the punishment for enlisted men who did something like that was a $20 fine, Puller said he should have set a better example and fined himself $100. It is because of things like this that even now, Marines in boot camp say, “Good night, Chesty Puller, wherever you are!” at the end of their day.
Chesty Puller suffered a stroke while serving as Deputy Commander at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and was retired by the Marine Corps with the rank of lieutenant general on November 1, 1955. In 1966, he requested a return to active duty during the Vietnam War but was turned down due to his age and physical condition. He and his wife lived in Virginia until his death on October 11, 1971. He is buried at Christ Church Cemetery near Saluda, Virginia, where Marines, veterans, and other admirers frequently stop by to pay their respects to the man who was known as “A Marine’s Marine.”
Congratulations Bob Dahlgren, winner of our drawing for an audiobook of The Chesapeake: Tales & Scales, a collection of short stories about the Twentieth Century in Southern Maryland, from the Potomac to the Patuxent told by those who know this unique region, it’s history and it’s people like we know our own living rooms. Here you will find murder, mayhem and mystery along with blues, rockfish, and serendipity serenades to convince fish to jump onto the hook.
We had 24 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon. Note: Due to the high shipping cost of printed books and Amazon restrictions on e-books to foreign countries, only entries with US addresses and e-mail addresses are allowed. After 90 days, unclaimed prizes revert back to the drawing pool for a future contest.
Thought For The Day – We make generals today on the basis of their ability to write a damned letter. Those kinds of men can’t get us ready for war. – Chesty Puller