In the annals of military valor, he is known as “Chesty” Puller, not only for his bull chest but also for his absolute fearlessness and devotion to duty. “Chesty” Puller came to the Marine Corps out of Virginia Military Institute, the college where General Stonewall Jackson taught before the Civil War. The school itself had a history of wartime valor. VMI cadets fought as a unit in Jackson’s Army, the only time in American history when a student body was committed to a pitched battle. Cadet Puller may have been inspired by their heroism. Puller entered the Virginia Military Institute in 1917. In August 1918, he dropped out and enlisted in the Marine Corps, hoping to join the fighting in Europe during the World War. He never saw combat. Instead he was appointed a Marine Reserve lieutenant, only to be placed on the inactive list 10 days later due to post-war drawdowns. Determined to be a Marine, he rejoined the Corps as an enlisted man, hoping this time to take part in the fighting in Haiti.
Born June 26, 1898, in West Point, Va., the young man grew up hunting and listening to tales of the Civil War told by his relatives. He also had a heavy appetite for reading, pouring through count-less books of military tales and history.
Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller would go on to earn five Navy Crosses, the nation’s second highest award for valor, and spend 37 years in the Corps, retiring at the rank of lieutenant general.