When Lieutenant General Lewis “Chesty” Puller retired in 1955, he was already the most decorated man in Marine Corps history. His valor and accomplishments in battle earned him rapid promotions and helped him shape his unwavering legacy that’ll surely last for centuries. Here are ten things you should know about the legendary “Chesty.”
1. Came from a military family
Chesty was the grandson of Civil War veteran Major John Puller, and a distant cousin to another famous soldier, US Army General George S. Patton. His family’s background enticed him to enroll in the Virginia Military Institute in 1917 at 19. Puller left a year later to enlist in the USMC to “go where the guns are.”
2. His first taste of action was in Haiti
Puller did not see any action in WWI, as the war had ended before he was officially deployed. Still yearning for combat, Chesty decided to test his luck in Haiti. While stationed there, Puller participated in over forty engagements in five years against the Caco rebels.
3. His first combat mission was a success
While people get scared to see their enemies, Lewis Puller did not. His first encounter with the enemy happened at about 4 AM when his pack train strolled around a wooden bend. They were met with hundreds of incoming Caco rebels, to which Puller shouted, “Charge! Attack! Hurry!”. Only five of their horses and mules were their casualties.
4. Won the Boston Drill Competition in 1925
Before Puller, the US Army, Navy, and Coast Guard drill teams had outshone the USMC in the National Silent Drill Competition. Puller took over with vigor and started the training manual from scratch. His dedication to his craft led to their first trophy in Boston in 1925.
5. Nicaraguans called him “El Tigre”
During his stint in the rugged lands of Nicaragua, Puller would lead his men and the Nicaraguan National Guard Forces in over 60 battles against the insurgents. His group, “Company M,” earned notoriety among the rebels due to their ferocity in flushing them out.
6. His nickname fits him perfectly
Some say Puller got his famous nickname because of his big, thrust-out chest. Others would tell you “Chesty” is an old Marine expression that means ‘cocky.’ However, those under his command would say he developed his chest from shouting orders above the noise of battle. They didn’t need frontline communications; Chesty would just yell commands up and down the line!
7. He led by example
Chesty was not a pompous man. He lived with his men, carried his own pack and bedding roll in marches, and adhered to a monotonous diet of K rations.
8. Most decorated Marine in history
So far, Puller is the only Marine to receive five Navy Crosses. His long list of awards and decorations includes a Silver Star, a Distinguished Service Cross, a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star Medal, and a Legion of Merit. And that’s not even the half of it!
9. Defended an airfield against an overwhelming force of Japanese troops
Chesty was in command of the 1st Ballation, 7th Marine Regiment, when he was given his third Navy Cross. The Battle for Henderson Field culminated in a firefight on the night of October 24-25, 1942. Under his command, the 1st and 3rd Batallion defended the airfield and only suffered 70 casualties, while the Japanese suffered over 1,400.
10. He became bait at one point
Late one night, Chesty deliberately lit his pipe in the open, then fell and rolled over in the dirt to draw machine gun fire from a nearby enemy nest. As a result, his gunners were able to clean house by firing at the muzzle flashes from Japanese guns. Who’d ever think to even do that!?