All Marines learn about Chesty Puller during boot camp, but only a privileged few participate in this kind of memorial run.
Beginning at 4:45 a.m., Marines launched their annual 69-mile relay run Friday to the outskirts of Saluda, where the historic tombstone of Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller rests. Seven hours later, more than 80 Marines ran in mass formation on General Puller Highway. The event culminated with a wreath laying ceremony and toast to the heroism of Chesty Puller.
Pfc. Kyle Chalmers, Marine Corps Detachment student, first heard about Puller when he was in the fourth grade from his Marine brother. Then he learned about Puller’s heroic action at boot camp.
“We had to take a test and one of the questions was, ‘What Marine had five Navy crosses?’ We yelled out ‘Chesty Puller’ so everybody could hear us,” Chalmers said.
But he didn’t know Fort Lee Marines conduct this lengthy relay run to Saluda until he was on his first fire watch.
“I saw two newspaper (clippings) on the wall about the Chesty Puller run from last year and the year before that,” he said. From there it was just a matter of days before the announcement was made for volunteers to participate.
“Doing this (run) makes you feel closer to him. I told my brother about this, and he said that only people who are here at Fort Lee get to do this,” Chalmers said.
Gunnery Sgt. Julio Dominguez, Petroleum and Water Department instructor, participated in the event for the third year.
With more than 12 years in the Marine Corps, Dominguez said he remains committed to honoring Puller as opportunities arise.
Marines everywhere do something in honor of Puller, but no one does it on this scale because no one has the privilege of being this close to the gravesite, Dominguez said.
“It’s an honor to participate in this kind of run, because one can only hope to be as great as he was,” he said.
During the wreath laying ceremony and toast at the gravesite, Lt. Col. Christopher Michelsen, detachment commander, told the Marines to reflect on those Marines who are currently deployed and what they are doing for the country and the world.
“We train so that we may be able to react whenever called upon. Some of us may never be called upon, but if we are, we need to be ready,” Michelsen said. “When you are called upon to hold that line, do it with professionalism and without hesitation. That’s what General Puller would have asked us to do.”
A 37-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Puller participated in four World War II campaigns, the Korean War and expeditionary service in China, Nicaragua and Haiti.
By his death in 1971, Chesty was the most decorated officer and the only Marine to have received five Navy Crosses for heroism and gallantry in action.