SALUDA – Few U.S. military officers are more revered than Virginia native Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller. More than 47 years after his death, the mere utterance of his name causes Devil Dog chests to swell and platoons to call out a respectful “ooh-rah” in his honor.
For Marine Detachment Fort Lee the connection to Puller is even stronger given the proximity of the famous general’s hometown and final resting place. As it has done for many years, the unit conducted its annual Chesty Puller Memorial Relay Run Oct. 4 to the towns of West Point and Saluda.
More than 250 Devil Dogs participated in the grueling 64-mile, 12-hour event culminating at Puller’s burial site at Christ Church Parish cemetery.
Lt. Col. Morina Foster, MD Fort Lee commanding officer, said the 25th edition of the event allowed her to share Puller’s legacy with new Marines attending initial entry training here.
“What this meant to me as the detachment commander was having the opportunity to impart some history to those coming into the Marines Corps today,” she said. “A lot of their knowledge about Chesty Puller is only PowerPoint-deep. Participating in the run allows us to instill in them a little bit more about our history and traditions.”
Puller is celebrated as the most decorated Marine ever with five Navy Crosses and an Army Distinguished Service Cross among a long list of other medals, awards and citations. Puller saw combat tours in Haiti, Nicaragua, during World War II and the Korean War. As a fighting man, his exploits in battle along with his square jaw and intense gaze contributed to his enduring symbolism.
The Marine Corps mascot, always a purebred English bulldog, is known as “Chesty Pullerton.”
The MD’s top enlisted Marine, Sgt. Maj. Matthew Moore, who participated in last year’s event, said although Puller has been deceased for nearly a half century, young Marines can still relate to what he represents.
“I think it was the grit, tenacity and his courage in the face of extreme adversity in combat – something every Marine aspires to,” he said.
Pfc. Terry Jones, 21, from Havelock, N.C., said the run is not only an event few Marines get the opportunity to participate in but also acknowledged it is inspirational to learn more about the Marine he heard so much about as a young recruit.
“I think he’s a very motivating Marine,” he said. “I read up on his history, and he did a lot and was always there for his Marines. Listening to his stories in boot camp kind of motivated me to push through and helped me realize it could always be worse. Trying to live up to his legacy was the best thing I can do as a Marine.”
At the church parish, the Marine students and cadre were joined by Rev. Stuart Wood, rector of Christ Church, and Elizabeth Evans, Puller’s sister in-law. Wood provided a history of the church, talked about Puller’s life after his retirement and led the group in prayer.
Later, the Marines toasted Puller, placed wreaths on his and his wife’s gravesites and sang the Marine Hymn. Moore said the ceremony is indeed a special occasion.
“This actually brings the corps closer to the family and Chesty,” he said. “Having a member of his family here to share the event makes us feel like we’re with him today.”
Puller is buried next to his wife, Virginia Montague Evans.