NB: Originally published in Nov 2008 by Marine Corps Times. Good to remember grunt Marines
What would Chesty do?
How history’s most decorated Marine would handle the issues of today
By Joe Bush - Staff writer
ORIGINALLY Posted : Friday Nov 21, 2008 18:27:29 EST
Nothing stays the same forever.
In 233 historic years, the Corps has evolved through technological revolutions, societal upheaval and changing attitudes.
Nicknames came and went. So did weapons and bases, customs and procedures. Every generation has had an Old Corps vs. New.
Not that it always mattered.
“Old breed? New breed?” Chesty Puller famously pondered. “There’s not a damn bit of difference, so long as it’s the Marine breed.”
Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller needs no introduction to Marines. From Haiti to the South Pacific to the Chosin Reservoir, Puller is the stuff of legend. Most of the time, you can’t go to bed at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., or MCRD San Diego, Calif., without sounding off, “Good night, Chesty, wherever you are.”
His lore defines for many what it means to be a Marine. Which brings to mind the question: What would Chesty do if he were alive today? How would he tackle the sticky questions that trip up Marines from Afghanistan to Okinawa?
So listen up, Marines. We’ve applied Puller logic to the great questions of today.
Here’s what Chesty would do.
Should drinking be allowed in combat zones?
Marines are not allowed to drink in Iraq or Kuwait. If caught, they face nonjudicial punishment and the possible loss of rank and pay.
Despite the stiff consequences, Marines still smuggle in alcohol and find ways to tie one on. What would Chesty do about Marines getting drunk in combat?
He would open an enlisted club and serve it to them.
“Get rid of the ice cream and candy,” said then-Brig. Gen. Chesty Puller, in an interview after Korea, according to the biography “Chesty: The Story of Lt. General Lewis B. Puller,” written by Reserve Col. Jon T. Hoffman. “Give ’em beer and whiskey — that’ll help some. Get some pride in them. Tell them they’re men.”
Chesty helped established several enlisted clubs, and even added lunchtime beers in some places. He was also known for handing out his personal stash of hooch to Marines in the field.
At Koto-Ri, in Korea’s Chosin Reservoir, Chesty went up to the line to check on his troops and stopped in to see a former buddy from Guadalcanal in one of the fighting holes. In the privacy of the snow bank, then-Col. Chesty Puller produced a miracle — a drink of Old Grand-Dad bourbon, according to the biography “Marine: The Life of Chesty Puller.”
“It was like something out of heaven, you can’t know what that did for a freezing man who’d be up there for six hours without relief,” the sergeant recalled later. “I never saw the old man drink, but he knew when a little nip would save a fellow from going mad or becoming a casualty.”
Could Chesty find Osama bin Laden?
Maybe not, but he would have torn apart al-Qaida and the Taliban looking for him.
Chesty was a master at limited warfare and guerilla tactics, which he displayed in Nicaragua. He conducted patrols deep within the jungle in enemy territory to root out rebel fighters, away from any support, often outmanned and outgunned.
Chesty and his platoon of Nicaraguan Guardia slaughtered the Sandinistas and their top leaders, rendering them ineffective. Unfortunately, he never caught the leader, Sandino.
“It would take a guy like Puller, thrashing around through the back country, to catch him,” Hoffman said.
According to his second Navy Cross citation, Puller was serving as a first lieutenant in the Guardia when his patrol drove deep into isolated and mountainous bandit territory nearly 100 miles from the nearest friendly base camp. His small patrol was ambushed by more than 150 rebels, armed with automatic weapons and various small arms, and well supplied with ammo.
Puller lost two men and had four wounded, but the patrol managed to defeat the larger force. “This single victory in jungle country, with no lines of communication and a hundred miles from any supporting force, was largely due to the indomitable courage and persistence of the patrol commander.”
How should Marines handle prisoners?
A number of high-profile incidents involving captured enemy insurgents in Iraq have sparked debate over the proper treatment of the enemy on the battlefield. It begs the question: How would Chesty treat prisoners of war?
Frankly, Chesty would rather kill his enemy than dishonor him.
Then-Lt. Col. Chesty Puller was walking through the jungles of Guadalcanal with the men of 7th Marines when they spotted a wounded Japanese soldier. Unable to take the man prisoner and fearing he might be concealing a grenade, Puller ordered his men to kill the soldier.
Instead, the Marines loaded him up with their gear, three or four packs at a time, and forced him to carry the load, according to “Marine.”
At the end of the day, Chesty passed the Marines again and saw the prisoner.
“Why didn’t you kill that bird?” Chesty asked. “Didn’t you hear my orders?”
One of the Marines replied, “Sir, I thought he could carry today, and we could kill him tonight.”
That didn’t sit well with Chesty. “No you won’t,” Puller said. “He did your work all day, and you’ll sit up and guard him all night.”
So they did. And in the morning, the prisoner was sent back to rear with the wounded.
For Puller, treating a prisoner fairly was a requirement.
In Korea, a Marine private was ordered by a chaplain to take charge of five North Korean POWs. Instead of escorting them, he opened fire with an automatic rifle, killing all five, according to “Marine.”
The incident was brought up to Chesty, who placed the Marine under arrest. “What outfit was it that lost all those boys last night?” Puller asked his aide.
“Barrow’s company, sir,” the aide replied.
“All right, give that boy an M1 and send him up there,” Chesty said. The story has become legend for Chesty’s brand of military justice.
But Puller wasn’t a fan of hammering good Marines who make mistakes, even if the mistakes were extreme. In 1956, then-Brig. Gen. Chesty Puller testified in the Ribbon Creek court-martial on behalf of Staff Sgt. Matthew McKeon, a Parris Island drill instructor accused of getting drunk and leading six recruits to their deaths during an impromptu night march through the creek.
This case was a black eye for the Corps, and reshaped the way Marines train. Even Puller, a former Parris Island recruit, called it a “deplorable accident.”
But Puller still felt the need to speak up for McKeon and try to save his career. “The important thing is the Marine Corps,” Puller said, according to “Marine.”
“If we let them, they will tear it to pieces. Headquarters won’t speak up. It’s my duty to do it.”
Are combat awards important?
Puller is widely recognized as the most decorated Marine in history, earning five Navy Crosses. But if he were alive today, there’s little chance Chesty would receive the same recognition.
“Not even for specific things he did, even if he duplicated them today,” Hoffman said.
Before World War II, the only medals for valor were the Navy Cross and the Medal of Honor. If a Marine did not get one of those, he got nothing, Hoffman said.
All five of Chesty’s Navy Crosses were for leadership. Today, the award is generally associated with individual acts of heroism.
Only 18 Marines have received the Navy Cross for action in Afghanistan and Iraq, and one Marine has received the Medal of Honor. Of the 19 awards, only two were awarded to officers — a captain and a lieutenant. Three of Chesty’s Navy Crosses were received at major or above.
Would Chesty pass the Combat Fitness Test?
As one of the greatest combat leaders in the Corps, Chesty stayed in peak physical condition. He didn’t need a test to remind him of why it was important.
While under fire from the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, for instance, Puller dashed across railroad tracks to the opposite flank to prepare his men for a coordinated counterattack, then dashed back across to his own lines. The move wasn’t all that different from the CFT’s 880-yard sprint, and it was during this fight that Chesty earned his second Navy Cross.
In another display of physical prowess, during the battle for Guadalcanal, Chesty came under enemy fire again.
“The colonel fell to the ground, rolled over, and was up on his feet again, like a rubber man,” said a fellow Marine officer. “He kept that up for several minutes: hit the deck, roll. Stand and bellow orders.”
Should ‘hazing’ be tolerated?
Chesty knew how to dish it out, and he knew how to take it.
The “Order of the Shellback” was a long-standing Marine and Navy tradition, but can be considered hazing by today’s definition. While on ship duty in the Pacific in 1937, Chesty joined the Order when he crossed the equator for the first time.
Puller was jokingly charged with unmilitary bearing and gross display of medals, according to the book “Chesty.” For punishment he had to kiss a sailor’s fat belly and crawl through a greasy gauntlet of paddles made out of canvas fire hose.
According to “Marine,” on return from Australia, he gave an Army officer the royal treatment. The Army lieutenant colonel asked if he had to kiss the sailor’s fat belly, and Chesty said yes. The soldier supposedly had his entire face pushed into the fat rolls when he went in for the kiss.
What should we do with deserters?
Oh, you think not? According to “Marine,” during the perimeter defense of Koto-ri, a unit of soldiers that Chesty’s men had rescued from an ambush was assigned to guard a portion of the perimeter. One officer asked Chesty about the direction of a line of retreat, to which Puller responded by jumping on the horn and calling his artillerymen with the soldiers’ position.
“If they start to pull back even 1 foot, I want you to open fire on them,” he told the arty guys. Then he turned to the soldier.
“Does that answer your question?”
Are war trophies OK?
Chesty believed that “gear adrift is gear, a gift” among the troops, and he didn’t mind grabbing something off the enemy, either.
In Chesty’s first days of fighting on Guadalcanal, he and his men captured a Japanese camp, where Chesty took a beautiful dress sword off a Japanese major he had shot and killed. A few days later, the sword was stolen from Chesty’s command post.
Asked if he wanted to turn out the troops to recover the missing sword, Chesty said no. “I don’t know who got it, but any one of those boys rate it more than I did. They carried the big load, let them keep it.”
The sword later surfaced on a Navy ship. A Marine sold it to a sailor for $1,000.
How would Chesty handle urban warfare, such as Fallujah?
He’d bomb ’em back to the Stone Age.
Chesty was familiar with urban fighting. In 1950, before entering Seoul, South Korea, Chesty nearly leveled it with a massive bombing campaign. It set a record for the Korean War, with 326 mortar rounds, 650 artillery shells and 30,000 .50-caliber rounds, as his four battalions used all their ammo and depleted a nearby Army ammo dump.
As for the civilians caught in the crossfire, Chesty felt sorry for them. “I hate to see people in a shack like that get hurt. The same family has probably been living for generations in that same dump.” But there was no other way.
Even after the bombardment, Chesty’s men spent several days in intense house-to-house fighting with the Koreans. In the end, Seoul was destroyed, but captured.
How do we treat PTSD?
Honestly, Chesty didn’t believe in it. “There is no such thing as shell shock,” he said, using the terminology of the time.
Once, while recovering from wounds sustained during the fighting on Guadalcanal, Chesty spent a little time in sick bay. According to “Marine,” he was put near a private suffering from shell shock.
Chesty tried to tell the Marine it was all in his mind. “Until I got here, I never saw a bit of it. We fought all the way up and down Haiti and Nicaragua without it. You’ll be okay.”
But the Marine was completely unresponsive. Chesty saw him looking at a picture of his girlfriend.
Puller told him he would never see her again, and she wouldn’t even spit on him. He might have mentioned his face would be on wanted posters, plastered in post offices, for desertion. In the end, the Marine picked up his rifle and went back to the front lines.
Sometime later, that same Marine was decorated for bravery, according to “Marine.”
And what about those pesky reporters?
Journalists loved Chesty because of his irreverent behavior and straightforward quotes. And Chesty was all for getting reporters out with the troops.
On the drive into Korea, after the landing at Inchon, a group of journalists showed up in Chesty’s camp. “Take them up and get shot at,” Chesty told his driver. “Let ’em see what this is all about.”
In the frozen Chosin, a reporter arrived without a jacket and asked Chesty if he would supply him with one. Chesty got the reporter a parka from sick bay, and it was marked up with blood. “I hope you didn’t take it from one of your own men, sir,” the reporter said.
“I don’t care if you freeze, if it means keeping them going,” Puller said. “The boy that had that parka will never need it again.”
And unlike many of the policymakers of today, Chesty would not have shied away from showing the human cost of war.
At Chosin, Chesty needed to bury 117 Marines, but the earth was too frozen to dig. Instead, the Marines had to roll a tank over the frozen bodies, crushing them into the ground.
According to “Marine,” a photographer filmed the whole thing, but the footage was later censored by Washington and kept from the public. Chesty disapproved.
“How I wish our people could have seen the sight,” he said later, “to see just what happened to us in Korea.”
Ten bucks says Chesty would have subscribed to Marine Corps Times. He probably would have made fun of some general on the cover, though.
Good night, Chesty. Wherever you are.http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2008/11/marine_chesty11_112408/