"Goodnight, Chesty"

I had never heard of “Chesty Puller” until reading this piece just now, but it sounds like a film needs to be made, here:

Enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1918 he would serve until 1955, rising in rank from private to lieutenant general. Throughout his career he led from the front, never asking his men to go where he would not go. For his courage he was five times awarded the navy cross, a silver star, a distinguished service cross, and a bronze star with a v for valor, along with numerous other decorations. In World War II and Korea he became a symbol of the courage that Marines amply displayed in both conflicts.

His fourth navy cross citation details why the Marines under his command would have followed him in an attack on Hades if he had decided to lead them there [. . .] Stories began to cluster about him. When he was first shown a flame thrower he supposedly asked, “Where do you mount the bayonet?” Advised that his unit was surrounded he replied: “All right, they’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us…they can’t get away this time.” On an inspection tour of a Marine unit he became exasperated at the lack of spirit he saw and finally said,”Take me to the Brig. I want to see the real Marines!”

During the Chosin campaign in Korea when the Marines were fighting their way to the coast through several Communist Chinese corps he captured the tactical situation succinctly: “Retreat! Hell, we’re just attacking in a different direction.” Little surprise that Marine Drill Instructors at Parris Island will have their boots sing good night to Chesty Puller some four decades after his death.

Read the whole story, and the comments which are both awe-inspiring and funny in themselves.

A hero and a genuine character; we need more of those in an era seeking to redefine heroes by degrees of blandness. I want to know more! Learning about a hero seems like a good way to start the new year!

But I am very sure that a former pastor of mine, a lifelong Military Chaplain who served in Iraq and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf, and the great Navy Chaplain (Rear-Admiral), Cardinal John Joseph O’ Connor, would be quick to credit many non-Catholic chaplains with heroic service.

Photo essay on Military Chaplains
Fr. Emil Kapaun, US Army Chaplain
The Stuff our Priests are Made of
Died of Wounds

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Steve P in Madison, Wis.

    One month from today — February 3 — is the anniversary of the heroic witness of “The Four Chaplains,” a rabbi, two protestant minsters, and a Catholic priest, who gave up their lives to save the lives of others when the troop transport ship they were serving on was torpedoed in 1943. See
    link There are so many stories of valor. It’s humbling.

    [I linked to coverage of those chaplains within the text of the post - admin]

  • Steve Colby

    Thanks for the link to the Chesty Puller article.
    The one comment is priceless, even if slightly blasphemous. USMC (Ret.) indeed!

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  • http://Firstthings.com Dan Koerner

    Thanks for the article. I think it would be remiss not to mention the life and death Father & Marine Chaplain Vince Capodanno. Here’s a link:


    Keep up the good work,

    Dan Koerner

  • Jim

    If you watch the HBO mini series “Pacific” Chesty is ably played by William Sadler.

    Chesty is not just a legend within the USMC, but amoung any who honour true leaders. I’m from north of the border and Chesty has been one of my personal heros for long time.

    Think about the stat that stands out, awarded his nation’s second highest award for valour SIX times.

  • http://mikesnow.org Michael Snow

    The article links did not work…said ‘forbidden”

    Every Marine knows the name “Chesty Puller” though many might not remember that his name was Lewis. He was still a living legend when I recieved my commission.

    I believe that the greatest example that he set was that he never forgot from where he came. He rose from Private to Lt. Gen. and was always faithful to the enlisted man–an exemplary example of leadership.

    One very sad note: His son lost both legs in Vietnam. “Chesty” died on the 3rd anniversary of that event. About 20 years later, his son committed suicide.

    [The links appear to be working for me - admin]

  • AMDG

    I would also recommend the book written by Chesty’s son, Lewis Jr., Fortunate Son, which won the Pulitzer Prize. As Michael Snow wrote above it was a tragedy that he ultimately killed himself, but it doesn’t diminish the fact it is a very thoughtful and well-written memoir.

  • James Stephens


    As a Navy veteran who served with many Marines in the 1980s, it seemed every Marine–at least among the commissioned ranks–knew who Chesty Puller was, although few Americans outside the naval service know about him. I think you’re right, there does need to be a movie. And the story of the Navy and Marines in the Far East between the World Wars is a story that is under-appreciated.

  • Peg

    Chesty Puller’s daughter-in-law, Linda “Toddy” Puller, is a member of the Virginia state senate. She is the widow of Lewis Puller. Here is her web site:


  • MamaTod

    Being the mom of two Marines, I enjoyed this greatly. You might be interested to know that Chesty Puller and George Patton were distant cousins.

  • Alexandrag

    For all of you dog lovers, including the Anchoress, the Marine Corps mascot, a bulldog, is always named Chesty. The link is to a nice article and CBS report about the retirement of Chesty XII in 2008. The video is great for dog and Marine lovers!!


  • Matthew Keough

    I understand that one of his Catholic chaplains was named Matthew Keough. He is not related to me, as far as I know, but it nice to read about the bravery, service, faith and determination of one who shares my name.

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  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    I was never in any of the services and I heard of Chesty Puller. Heck he was a great American, one of the greatest. Everyone should know of him.

  • kathleen

    Thanks I’ll share this with my Dad who served in Korea and loved to tell of the story of his twin being pulled out of a chow line brawl by Chesty Puller more than mention his signature on Dad’s unit citations. While Dad talks of memories of Chesty Puller, it is his Marine Corps chaplain he talks of meeting in heaven. A man he called “Hawk” Austin that carried a fiddle to Iwo Jima and never got a scratch on it despite running to aid the wounded and dying as the battle raged. Dad may not remember what family member has visited him in the VA hospital this week but he can tell you about the sermon “Hawk” Austin gave before a battle that claimed over 90% of his Marine Corps unit.

    God Bless the chaplains and troops that live up to the Marine motto of Semper Fidelis.

  • https://nhaggin.freeshell.org/ Nicholas

    My dad got chewed out by Chesty Puller once, and I think he treasures the memory only a little less than marrying my mom. I grew up knowing full well who Chesty was.

  • http://www.aol.com exhelodrvr

    The shame is that “Chesty” would never survive in today’s environment. Not politically correct.

  • Jeff

    The military is going to go into a long slow decline now that DADT has been repealed. It will kill morale.

  • http://hcollison.com Harry

    USAF CHAPLAIN (MAJOR GENERAL) TERENCE P. FINNEGAN was also an outstanding Korean War Military Officer with an interesting bio.