Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lewis B. 'Chesty' Puller, USMC
What would have Chesty done in the Vietnam War? What would have Chesty done in the Iraq War? Judging from his long career in the Corps, and the many wars he was part of, not loosing any of them, he would have made a difference in the wars I just mentioned. The Korean War was his last. The war was not lost, it was a Mexican standoff. The United States has not won a major war since World War II.

The following is part of the history and life and death of Chesty and his family.

Korean War and later career
At the outbreak of the Korean War, Puller was once again assigned as commander of the 1st Marine Regiment, with which he made a landing at Inchon on Septembe 15, 1950. In November of that year, Puller earned his fifth Navy Cross for action during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. It was during that battle when he made the famous quote, "We've been looking for the enemy for some time now. We've finally found him. We're surrounded. That simplifies things." Promoted to Brigadier General and made assistant division commander in January 1951, he completed his tour in Korea in May of that year.

General Puller subsequently achieved promotions to Major General and Lieutenant General, and served in various command capacities until his retirement due to health reasons on November 1, 1955.

In 1966, he requested to be reinstated in the Corps in order to see action in the Vietnam War, but the request was denied on the basis of his age.

He died in 1971, at the age of 73, in Saluda, Virginia. He is buried in Christchurch Parish Cemetery on the southeast side of Christchurch School off Highway 33 (also called "General Puller Highway") in Christchurch, Virginia. General Puller's widow, Virginia, died in 2006 at the age of 97 and was buried next to him.

Decorations and honors
Puller was the most decorated U.S. Marine in history and one of only two people to receive the Navy Cross, the Navy's second highest decoration, five times (the other being Navy submarine commander Roy Milton Davenport). With five Navy Crosses and a Distinguished Service Cross, the Army's second highest decoration, Puller received the nation's second highest military decoration a total of six times.

While exact counts of Puller's total number of decorations vary from source to source, an accepted number of 52 separate, subsequent, and foreign awards is commonplace. The reason for difficulty in assigning an exact total comes from the variety of foreign decorations that each carry different protocols in regard to wear and display.

Chesty's wife
Virginia Montague Evans of Saluda was 16 and Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller was 27 when they met at a cotillion in nearby West Point.

Puller, who would become the most-decorated Marine in the corps' history, was smitten, said their daughter, Virginia Dabney of Lexington."

My father said that winning her hand was his hardest battle," Dabney said. For years, he'd go on Marine Corps assignments and return to Saluda to ask Virginia to marry him.

She finally said "yes" when she was 29 and he was 40 and a Marine captain.

They married in a military wedding on Nov. 13, 1937, at Christ Church, the Episcopal church in Christchurch where generations of her family had worshipped.

Mrs. Puller, who was widowed in 1971, died at her home in Saluda. She was 97.

One of three children born to a lawyer's family, she grew up at Evanslea, a big house in Saluda that had 52 windows, said her daughter Martha Downs of Alexandria. She graduated in the early 1920s from St. Mary's School in Raleigh, N.C.

"She was everything he ever wanted. They were everything each other ever wanted," Dabney said. "They were absolutely devoted to each other. He sent her roses all the time and they wrote love letters."

Puller "did the Marine Corps. He thought it was the greatest thing and the best way to take care of us," Downs said. "Mother did everything else."

"She bought cars and houses and life insurance, and she did it beautifully. But she didn't want anyone to know she was doing those kinds of things. She wasn't sure it was ladylike. She wanted people to think Father was doing all that.

"She was a genteel Southern lady, but an iron lady," Downs said. "If you didn't have manners when you were coming in the house, you did when you left."

Mrs. Puller accompanied her husband on a tour of duty in China in 1940. She and her infant daughter, Virginia, left on the last American dependents' ship before the Japanese took Shanghai in 1941 during World War II, said Dabney.

She also followed him to Hawaii and across the U.S. mainland but returned to Saluda during his combat tours in World War II and the Korean War.

When he retired in 1955 as a lieutenant general, the couple settled in Saluda."

She really loved the Marines," Dabney said. "She fed hundreds of them. She knew how much it meant to Father. He would bring Marines home off the street if he met them at a gas station."

She found Marine husbands for her daughters.

At Christmas, she would be "graciously serving a Southern lunch to sergeants at this end of the table and generals at that end," Downs said. "When my father would get tired, she would say, 'The general needs a nap.' "

Mrs. Puller loved history, historical restoration projects and going to old homes and plantations. She was a member of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.

A son, Lewis B. Puller Jr., died in 1994.

In addition to her daughters, survivors include seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.