Sunday, October 21, 2007

Lieutenant General Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, USMC (Ret.)

Chesty retired from the United States Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina on 31 October 1955.

Lieutenant General Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller was a colorful veteran of the Korean War, four World War II campaigns, and expeditionary service in China, Nicaragua, and Haiti. He is the only Marine to win the Navy Cross five times for heroism and gallantry in combat earing him the distinction of being the most decorated Marine in the history of the USMC.

A Marine officer and enlisted man for 37 years, General Puller served at sea or overseas for all but ten of those years, including a hitch as commander of the "Horse Marines" in China. Excluding medals from foreign governments, he won a total of 14 personal decorations in combat, plus a long list of campaign medals, unit citation ribbons and other awards. In addition to the Navy Crosses.

Born 26 June 1898, at West Point, Virginia, the general attended Virginia Military Institute until enlisting in the Marine Corps in August 1918. He was appointed a Marine Reserve second lieutenant 16 June 1919, but due to force reductions after World War I, was placed on inactive duty ten days later. He rejoined the Marines as an enlisted man to serve with the Gendarmerie d'Haiti, a military force in that country under a treaty with the United States. Most of its officers were U. S. Marines, while its enlisted personnel were Haitians.

After almost five years in Haiti, where he saw frequent action against the Caco rebels, Puller returned in March 1924 to the United States. He was commissioned a Marine second lieutenant that same month, and during the next two years, served at the Marine Barracks, Norfolk, Virginia, completed the Basic School at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and served with the 10th Marine Regiment at Quantico, Virginia.

In July of 1926, Puller embarked for a two-year tour of duty at the Marine Barracks, Pearl Harbor. Returning in June 1928, he served in San Diego, California, until he joined the Nicaraguan National Guard Detachment that December. After winning his first Navy Cross in Nicaragua, he returned to the United States in July 1931 to enter the Company Officers Course at the Army Infantry School, Fort Benning, Georgia. He completed the course in June 1932 and returned to Nicaragua the following month to begin the tour of duty that brought him a second Navy Cross.

In January 1933, Puller left Nicaragua for the United States. A month later he sailed from San Francisco to join the Marine Detachment of the American Legation at Peiping, China. There, in addition to other duties, he commanded the famed "Horse Marines." Without coming back to the United States, he began a tour of sea duty in USS AUGUSTA of the Asiatic Fleet. In June 1936 he returned to the United States to become an instructor in the Basic School at Philadelphia. He left there in May 1939 to serve another year as commander of the AUGUSTA's Marine Detachment, and from that cruiser, joined the 4th Marine Regiment at Shanghai, China, in May 1940.

After serving as a battalion executive and commanding officer with the 4th Marines, Puller sailed for the United States in August 1941. In September, he took command of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division, at Camp Lejeune. That Regiment was detached from the 1st Division in March 1942 and the following month, as part of the 3rd Marine Brigade, sailed for the Pacific theater. The 7th Regiment rejoined the 1st Marine Division in September 1942, and Puller, still commanding its 1st Battalion, went on to win his third Navy Cross at Guadalcanal.

The action that brought him that medal occurred on the night of October 24-25 1942. For a desperate three hours his battalion, stretched over a mile-long front, was the only defense between vital Henderson Airfield and a regiment of seasoned Japanese troops. In pouring jungle rain the Japanese smashed repeatedly at his thin line, as General Puller moved up and down its length to encourage his men and direct the defense. After reinforcements arrived, he commanded the augmented force until late the next afternoon. The defending Marines suffered less than 70 casualties in the engagement while 1400 of the enemy were killed and 17 truckloads of Japanese equipment were recovered by the Americans.

After Guadalcanal, Puller became executive officer of the 7th Marines. He was fighting in that capacity when he won his fourth Navy Cross at Cape Gloucester in January 1944. There, when the commanders of the two battalions were wounded, he took over their units and moved through heavy machine-gun and mortar fire to reorganize them for attack, then led them in taking a strongly fortified enemy position.

In February 1944, Puller took command of the 1st Marines at Cape Gloucester. After leading that regiment for the remainder of the campaign, he sailed with it for the Russell Islands in April 1944. He went on to command it at Peleliu in September and October 1944. He returned to the United States in November 1944, named executive officer of the Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Lejeune in January 1945, and took command of that regiment the next month.

In August 1946, Puller became Director of the 8th Marine Corps Reserve District, with headquarters at New Orleans, Louisiana. After that assignment, he commanded the Marine Barracks at Pearl Harbor until August 1950, when he arrived at Camp Pendleton, California, to re-establish and take command of the 1st Marines, the same regiment he had led at Cape Gloucester and Peleliu.

Landing with the 1st Marines at Inchon, Korea, in September 1950, he continued to head that regiment until January 1951, when he was promoted to brigadier general and named Assistant Commander of the 1st Marine Division. That May he returned to Camp Pendleton to command the newly reactivated 3rd Marine Division in January 1952. After that, he was assistant at division commander until he took over the Troop Training Unit, Pacific, at Coronado, California, that June. He was promoted to major general in September 1953, and in July 1954, assumed command of the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune. Despite his illness, he retained that command until February 1955, when he was appointed Deputy Camp Commander. He served in that capacity until August, when he entered the U. S. Naval Hospital at Camp Lejeune prior to retirement.

In 1966, General Puller requested to return to active duty to serve in Vietnam, but was turned down because of his age. He died 11 October 1971 in Hampton, Virginia, after a long illness. He was 73.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Marine Mail Guards

U.S.Marines are generally very well versed in the long and colorful history of our Marine Corps. We know of our roots and the events and battles through the years that have brought us to the present day. However, there are several areas of our history where we tend to be less aware of the facts involved. The use of Marines to guard the U.S. mails during the 1920s, I think, is one such area.

All Marines know that Marines were called upon during that era to act as mail guards; but few are aware of the specific facts of that involvement. Most books dealing with Marine Corps history touch only briefly upon this subject. This might lead the reader to believe that this was only a minor incident, but that is far from the truth.

The facts are that after a series of mail robberies resulting in murder, mayhem, and losses in the millions of dollars, beginning in 1921 (thru 1922), and again in 1926 (thru 1927), the Marine Corps was requested by the Post Office Department to assist in the protection of the U.S. mails, guarding mail trains and trucks, post offices, etc. Though the overall duration of the Marines' involvement spanned only a few months, thousands of Marines were detailed, and it encompassed the entire length and breadth of the United States as well.
(Detailed information regarding this is on record at the Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington, D.C.).

It is my feeling that this topic of Marine Corps history is deserving of more attention. Therefore the following is presented here as information provided by the Marine Corps Historical Center.

In a memo to the officer in charge of the historical section, dated November 6, 1930, it is stated, "In 1921 the robbery of the U.S. Mails necessitated the detailing of marines to guard mail trains, post offices etc. In November 1921 a force of approximately 53 officers and 2200 enlisted men were dispatched throughout the country and performed this duty until March 1922 when they were withdrawn. Maximum strength 54 officers 2208 enlisted. (Nov 30, 1921)
The marines were again detailed to guard the mails in October 1926. The number of officers and men on mail guard duty reached its maximum of 68 officers and 2452 enlisted on December 20, 1926. Due to the demand for marines for expeditionary duty, a gradual withdrawal of marines was begun on January 10, 1927, and completed on February 19, 1927."

"Cocked And Locked!"
And, in a 'circular letter', "Subject: Miscellaneous Instructions, dated 13 December 1921, from The Major General Commandant....
1. In cases where trains carrying Marines guarding mails cross the Canadian Boundry enroute to another point in the United States, the Marines, upon crossing the boundry, shall place their arms in a registered mail-sack and turn over the sack to Canadian Post Office Officials (who accompany the train) until such time as the train re-crosses into the United States. Under no circumstances shall Marines exercise a military function in Canadian teritory.
2. Shotguns preferably will be carried with filled magazine and empty chamber, in order to avoid accidents.
3. Pistols may be carried loaded, cocked and locked. The holster should be fastened to the leg and the flap tucked or tied back, so as not to interfere with drawing. The Marine (if not carrying other arms) should carry his hand on the pistol butt.
4. Arrangements should be made for each mail-coach to carry a supply of ordinary railroad flares, which should be ignited and thrown out of the car if an attack is made on it. Also, in case of attack on a car, interior lights should be put out. On trains lighted with electricity the guard should be prepared to turn out all lights.
5. The Marines should be continually reminded that they will use their firearms to wound or kill only when necesarry to prevent robbery or theft of the mails. The use of firearms except for this purpose must be avoded.
6. Where it is decided to convene a summary court-martial and a shortage of officers exists, a request may be made on the local Recruiting Officer for one or more officers to report for this temporary duty. When they report, the Commanding Officer may order them as members of the Court-Martial. In such cases, the officer or officers requested should be junior to the officer ordering the court.
7. Cases have arisen where men have been transferred to barracks without punishment for the offense which caused their transfer. Except in cases serious enough to warrant trial by General Court-Martial, men should be tried, before transfer, by a Deck Court or Summary Court-Martial, as it will be impracticable to bring them to trial after transfer. Men committing offenses warranting a general court-martial should be held at their station until a decision in the premises has been received from Headquarters.
8. The official title of the Detachments is --U.S. Marine Corps Detached Guard Company ( Place ). For instance, "U.S. MARINE CORPS DETACHED GUARD COMPANY, WASHINGTON, D.C.". Hereafter no other title will be used.
9. Commanding Officers must take steps to provide a suitable Christmas and New Years for their commands. No doubt much can be done for their entertainment by enlisting the good offices of local welfare organizations.
10. Precious orders regarding transfer, for discharge of men from U.S. Marine Corps Detached Guard Companies to nearest Recruiting Office or Barracks, are rescinded. Hereafter Commanding Officers of U.S. Marine Corps Detached Guard Companies will discharge their men in the same manner as any other Commanding Officer.
by direction"

Another directive HQMC memo dated 22 July 1960, titled "Notes On Organization Of The Mail Guard, 1926-1927, states...
"The United States was divided into two zones, eastern and western. The dividing line ran through Williston, North Dakota, Green River, Wyoming, Denver, Colorado, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, all points named being the Western Mail Guard.

The Eastern Mail Guard came from the Expeditionary Force stationed at Quantico, reinforced by two companies from Parris Island. Brigadier General Logan Feland was designated as commanding general of the Eastern Mail Guard, with headquarters at Quantico. The Eastern Mail Guard zone was divided into three areas: Fifth Regiment area ( CP, New York), Tenth Regiment Area( CP, Chicago ), and the Southern Area ( CP, Atlanta ).... "
The following is from the "Marine Corps Historical Reference Series Number 9"

"Toward the end of 1926, the men of the 4th Regiment had an opportunity for something more exciting than garrison routine. A recrudescence of robberies of the United States mails, featured by a particularly brazen and bloody attack on a mailtruck at Elizabeth, New Jersey, on 14 October 1926, led to arequest by the Post Office Department for the services of theMarine Corps to bring the situation under control. The Marines had been called upon once before to guard the mails, when a similar situation had developed in the fall of 1921, and they had quickly put a stop to the robberies. There had been virtually no incidents after the Marines had entered the picture on that occasion, and after they had been withdrawn in the spring of 1922, the Post Office Department, having provided
itself with civilian armed guards, had been able to carry on satisfactorily for some four years.

In 1926, when the Marines were called on the second time,the country was divided into an eastern and a western mail-guard zone, with Brigadier General Logan Feland commanding in the east and Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler in the west. Most of the personnel for the eastern zone came from the east-coast expeditionary force at Quantico, Virginia. The westernmail-guard zone was manned by the west-coast expeditionary forcefrom San Diego - that is to say, by the 4th Regiment.

Although it was a change from life at the base, mail-guard duty on this occasion proved to be scarcely more exciting. No incidents occurred after the Marines began guarding trucks, railway cars, and various strategic points in the handling of the mail.<47> These quiet conditions, however, made the withdrawal of the Marines feasible sooner than would normally have been the case, when a need for their services on expeditionary duty outside the United States arose at the
beginning of the new year.

The early withdrawal was considered necessary because of conditions in Nicaragua and China, where American interests were endangered by civil strife. The east-coast expeditionary force, reinforced, was sent to Nicaragua, where, under the command of General Feland, it was designated the 2d Brigade.

Similarly, the west-coast expeditionary force (4th Regiment), reinforced by various other units, was to become the 3d Brigade in China, commanded by General Butler."