Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller was devoted to the Marines he led during his 37-year career with the Corps. He fought beside his men, and ate and lived with them, refusing the comforts afforded to officers.
For this – as well as his numerous decorations for heroism, distinguished service and much more – the iconic general was deeply admired by the leathernecks of the World War II and Korean War eras. As seen during an event in this area last week, that admiration continues among those serving in the Corps nearly five decades after his death in 1971.
“The reason we do the annual Chesty Puller Run is because the general was a national hero,” said Lt. Col Morina Foster, commanding officer of Marine Detachment Fort Lee. “His actions and efforts helped shape the Marine Corps and our nation.”
The 26th Annual Chesty Puller Memorial Relay Run was a two-day event, starting Oct. 9 with the voluntary 62-mile journey on foot from Fort Lee to Saluda where Puller retired and is buried alongside his wife, Virginia Montague Evans. The following day, the entire Marine detachment participated in a formation run through town, concluding at Christ Church Parish Episcopal Cemetery. At a memorial service on the site, a brief history of Puller was read and the unit members performed a wreath-laying ceremony and saluted the general with a ceremonial toast.
“Participating in this event helps our young ordnance and quartermaster students have a better understanding of who Lt. Gen. Puller was,” said Gunnery Sgt. Aviel Smith, MD operations chief. “We pay tribute to his leadership, tenacity and unbending commitment to his Marines.”
During the brief recitation of highlights from his long and unforgettable career, three companies of new Devil Dogs learned that Puller was one of the most decorated Marines in the Corps’ history. The general earned five Navy Crosses for heroic actions during the many skirmishes he led such as the Battle for Henderson Field, Oct. 24-26, 1942. The Navy Cross is the second highest military decoration that may be awarded to a Marine Corps service member for extraordinary heroism against an enemy of the United States.
Throughout Marine history, Puller’s famous quotes also have echoed in the ears of those who have followed in his footsteps, serving as prime examples of his steely character and strong belief in the invincibility of Marines.
“Don’t forget that you’re first Marines … not all the communists in hell can overrun you!” were the words reflected upon by young Marine-awaiting-training Pfc. Evan Overton as he made his tribute to Puller and his wife alongside their sun-dappled graves. The recitation brought smiles to the older members of the unit that’s comprised of 200-or-so Marines. It also was appreciated by Saluda community and Puller family members who stood alongside the nearby church that was established in 1666.
Overton was one of four Marine students to volunteer to speak during the ceremony. Pfc. Thomas Hasman, Bravo Company; Pvt. Michael Fontana, Alpha Company; and Pfc. Brandon Shaw, Bravo Company, also stepped up to the plate to share more of Puller’s history and their thoughts about the general.
Marine metal-worker-to-be Shaw was enthusiastic about his speaking role at the ceremony. “I wanted to do this for two reasons. First, I volunteer for everything as you don’t know what the Marines will help you experience. Second, I admire Lt. Gen. Puller. He was, if I’m allowed to say this, a true badass, and I want to be like him.”
Shaw ended the ceremony tributes with, “Regardless of being dead almost 50 years, Chesty Puller’s memory, conduct, conspicuous presence and indomitable will sets a superior standard for us, the Marines of today, to follow.”
He paused to let that sink in, then he bellowed at the top of his lungs, “Give him one!”
His fellow Marines boomed back “Kill!”
Puller would have been proud.