He acquired the nickname “Chesty” for the way in which he carried his sub-6-foot frame while on the march. He stands as an icon and an enduring prototype of the modern Marine rifleman.
In prayer every night with his son, the proud son of Virginia invoked the names of his two boyhood heroes, Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. His grandfather fell to Union fire in the skirmish at Kelly’s Ford. But it was against America’s foreign enemies that “Chesty” Puller made his name. He became the most decorated leatherneck in history, with a Silver Star, a Distinguished Service Cross and five Navy Crosses (Nicaragua 1930 and 1932, Guadalcanal 1942, Cape Gloucester 1943, and Chosin Reservoir 1950) among the many ribbons on his left breast.
He had a gift for leading men. He could break down complex tasks so that anyone could learn them. “I can take any dumb son of a bitch and teach him to shoot,” he declared.
His talents on the battlefield were paired with a unique gift for memorable aphorism. Enveloped by Chinese troops in Korea, he told his regiment, “We’ve been looking for the enemy for several days now. We’ve finally found them. We are surrounded. That simplifies the problem of getting to these people and killing them.”
On the day he retired, at 57, he thanked the enlisted men and junior officers who had made possible his rise from private to three-star general. And today, at Parris Island and Camp Pendleton, Marine Corps boots return the salute every night: “Good night, Chesty Puller, wherever you are!”
For his never-quit spirit, good humor and ferocity to lead, Puller’s name resonates with us today.