Colonel’s Corner – Goodnight Chesty Wherever You Are
Note: by Col Michael C. Howard US Marines (Ret). “Goodnight Chesty wherever you are.” This was the last thing we would say each night either in Boot Camp or Officer Candidates School as we lay at attention in our racks. What a great tradition it became! So as the Marine Corps Birthday approaches 10 November and before the sun sets on the last day of October, it is only fitting to remember that October in 1971 when the most decorated US Marine in America’s history took his last breath. It is too bad that our current modern Generals could not be more like him: fearless and honest, not a politician. Oh how we love and miss him. So “Thank You Chesty” for the heritage you left and challenged us with. May we forever remain faithful.
This is the Obituary & Tribute from a Washington DC newspaper:
Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller U.S. Marine Corps
Smith Hempstone in The Evening Star, Washington, D.C.
20 October 1971
“They buried Chesty Puller at high noon on an apple-sweet October day, the notes of taps thin and sad on the crisp Tidewater air. The most decorated Marine in the history of the Corps did not hit his last beachhead alone.
They were all there: Chapman, Walt, Shoup, Greene, Silverthorne, Thomas, more than two dozen generals from a service in which stars come neither quickly nor easily. Pink-
cheeked recruits down from Quantico and turkey-necked old timers, crackers who could remember how Chesty won his first Navy Cross against Sandino in Nicaragua 40 years ago. More than 1,500 Marines and ex-Marines found their way to that remote church-yard in Virginia to pay final homage to a superlative fighting man who in his own lifetime had become a legend.
The wonder of it all is that Lewis Burwell Puller lived either to make general or to die in bed at the age of 73. Haiti, Nicaragua, Guadalcanal, Peleliu, Inchon, Yongdonpo, Chosin Reservoir – at any of half a dozen places Puller might have left his bones to whiten with those of so many of the brave men he led. For Chesty led from out front and insisted that his officers do so, which is why his 1st Marines lost 74% of its officers and “only” 60% of its enlisted men in the caves of Peleliu’s Bloody Nose Ridge.
But although Puller bore to his grave the scars of a dozen wounds, the God in whom he reposed such quiet trust denied him the Battlefield death for which, in reality, he was born. Making general was another matter.
For in the Service, as in civilian life, there is a small hello for a man with a salty tongue unafraid to use it on his superiors. Chesty always maintained that “the fat-assed generals” had it in for him and, indeed, he did not win his first star until he had served 33 years, won an unprecedented five Navy Crosses and led his 1st Marines out of “Frozin Chosin,” carrying their dead and wounded, trailed by the shattered remnants of less-favored regiments and better equipped (from materiel abandoned by other units) than when the Korean front collapsed.
Those “fat-assed generals”- or perhaps the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (he always insisted that Marines fought better on whisky than on ice cream) – saw to it that the barrel-chested Puller never commanded anything larger than a regiment in combat. His third star was a “tombstone” promotion (made on the occasion of his retirement because of his 56 decorations for valor) and they turned him down in 1965 when he tried to get recalled to active duty so that he could go to Vietnam. Instead, his son went; young Puller lost both legs and parts of six fingers in a land-mine explosion.
To serve under Chesty was to have a good chance to die. And yet enlisted Marines, who are not given to the adulation of their generals, fought for the chance to follow him and came down out of the mountain hamlets of half a dozen states to bury him last week.
Curious. Or is it? It was much the same with that strange, harsh, God-fearing man, “Stonewall” Jackson, Puller’s fellow-Virginian. Jackson would have a hungry Confederate soldier shot for stealing apples in Maryland and yet his butternut legions cheered him to a man whenever he showed himself. As Lee remarked sadly after Chancellorsville, Jackson’s presence on the battlefield was worth that of two crack regiments. So, it was with Puller.
No soldier ever loved the brilliant Douglas MacArthur. Which leads one to the conclusion that enlisted Marines, with that curious intuition of unschooled men, realized two things: That Chesty Puller was tougher than any of them and that, despite this and almost because of it, he genuinely cared about them. He
might – almost certainly would – lead them into hell, but he would be with them all the way and lead them out the other side, savoring their victories and mourning their deaths, for they were all, no less than his own blood and bone, Chesty’s true sons.
The Services are experiencing a difficult period. Men not fit to shine the boots of Chesty Puller make a mockery of everything for which he stood. You must go into the rural areas to find a post office outside which enlistment posters can stand un-defaced. A boy-man, who has served his country in Vietnam laying his life on the line, has to apologize to hairy stay-at-homes for his deeds.
And yet this, too, will pass. For, ever since the world began there have been meat-eaters and grass-eaters, those who would fight and those who would rather talk. And both in the cities and in the boondocks, in the concrete hell of Spanish Harlem and in the grim coal mines of Harlan County, Kentucky, the Marine recruiters are still finding raw-boned youngsters willing and eager to go through the valley of the shadow for a lantern-jawed, profane, compassionate man like Chesty Puller.
In the end, it matters little whether the rest of us understand or appreciate warriors such as Puller; there is little we can do to add to or detract from what they have been and are. But this nation would not exist without them and all of us comfortably at home today owe each of them an immense debt of gratitude. And when the smoke of that last volley cleared over the grave of Chesty Puller, it would have been a small man who would not have conceded that.”