Jun 09 , 2022
Chesty Puller, in full Lewis Burwell Puller, (born June 26, 1898, West Point, Virginia, U.S.—died October 11, 1971, Hampton, Virginia), United States Marine Corps officer who was the most decorated and venerated Marine in the history of the Corps. Across three wars and two counterinsurgency campaigns, Puller won five Navy Crosses and earned an unrivaled place in the hearts of Marines as the quintessential Leatherneck—“hard as the frontal armor of a tank, tenacious as a bulldog, courageous to a fault, and scornful of anyone or anything that did not wear the eagle, globe, and anchor insignia.”
Early life and initial deployments
Puller was born in West Point, Virginia, some 35 miles (56 km) east of Richmond, and he grew up on the tales of aging Confederate veterans and the heroic historical novels of G.A. Henty. His military career began inauspiciously. The United States had just entered World War I when he finished high school, but he chose to attend Virginia Military Institute. It would be the last time he did not march toward the sound of the guns. In 1918 he enlisted in the Marine Corps, gaining a commission after the conflict was over and never having left the States. Relegated to the reserves, he resigned and re-enlisted for active duty as a private for the chance to serve as a lieutenant in the Marine-led gendarmerie during the U.S. occupation of Haiti. In five years he fought a handful of small engagements against peasant cacos (guerrillas), failed his second stint as a Marine officer candidate, and finally gained a permanent commission on his third attempt in 1924. He flunked out of flight school two years later.
In 1928 Puller was deployed to Nicaragua as part of the U.S. effort to support the government of Pres. Adolfo Díaz. Puller spent his first 18 months as a frustrated staff officer, but eventually he made his initial mark commanding the only unit of the Marine-led Guardia Nacional not tethered to defending a town. Over the following years, his aggressive pursuit of César Augusto Sandino’s rebels led to numerous battles, two Navy Crosses, and a reputation for fearlessness, as well as the nickname “Chesty.” After spending 10 months undergoing advanced training at U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, Puller began a second tour of duty in Nicaragua in July 1932. On December 26, 1932, just five days before the end of the U.S. intervention, Puller led a Guardia unit in one of the biggest victories of the conflict at El Sauce.