Lewis Puller Essay

Lewis Burwell Puller was born in West Point,Virginia, on June 26, 1898. A second cousin of General George S. Patton and the grandson of a Confederate veteran, Puller came from a military family and idolized the likes of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson and Robert E. Lee while growing up. He enrolled at the in 1917 but left after a year with hopes of fighting in World War I (1914–1918). He was assigned, instead, to train recruits in South Carolina. In 1919, he graduated from Officer Training School as a second lieutenant but was immediately placed on the inactive list because of postwar troop reductions. Puller reenlisted as a corporal and was deployed to Haiti for five years to train the newly formed Gendarmerie d'Haiti, a constabulary force of Haitian enlisted personnel and Marine officers. He returned to the United States in 1924 and received his commission again as a second lieutenant.

After a two-year tour at Marine Barracks, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Puller was assigned to Nicaragua, where he earned the first of his five Navy Crosses while fighting rebels led by Augusto Sandino. On his second tour in Nicaragua, Puller earned another Navy Cross for his gallantry in fighting local rebel forces during a daring ten-day march. He then traveled to China to take command of the famous "Horse Marines" guarding American settlements around Beijing, but was recalled to the United States to teach at the Marine Officers Basic School at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1936. In 1940, he returned to China as the executive officer of the 2nd Battalion of the 4th Marine Regiment in Shanghai.

When World War II began, Puller was commanding the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment at New River (later renamed Camp Lejeune), North Carolina, and was sent with his unit to Guadalcanal in the summer of 1942. He won his third Navy Cross leading his battalion in defense of the island's Henderson Airfield against an overwhelming force of seasoned Japanese troops. Promoted to executive officer of the 7th Marine Regiment, Puller earned his fourth Navy Cross in January 1944 at Cape Gloucester in New Britain, when he braved enemy fire to inspire his men during a Japanese counterattack. He was then given command of the 1st Marine Regiment, which he led at the Battle of Peleliu in the Palau Islands in September and October 1944. He returned to the United States the following month to train recruits at Camp Lejeune, where he remained for the rest of the war.

At the outbreak of the Korean War, Puller received command of his old unit, the 1st Marine Regiment, and led them during the landing at Inchon in September 1950. He then earned his fifth Navy Cross at the Chosin Reservoir later that year by "attacking in a different direction" against ten Chinese divisions. The action also earned him a promotion to brigadier general in 1951 and major general in 1953. In 1954, he assumed command of the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune but was forced to retire a year later because of ill health. He requested a return to service in 1966 to fight in Vietnam but was refused because of his age. His son, Lewis Burwell Puller Jr., also served as a Marine officer, losing both legs and parts of his hands in action in South Vietnam in 1968. His autobiography, Fortunate Son, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. The younger Puller killed himself two years later.

Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller died on October 11, 1971, at the age of seventy-three. He was buried in Saluda, in , where he spent his retirement. A honoring him is located nearby on State Route 33, the "General Puller Highway."

For his father, Lewis Burwell Puller (1898 – 1971), a United States Marine Corps lieutenant general, see Chesty Puller.

Lewis Burwell Puller Jr. (August 18, 1945 – May 11, 1994) was an attorney and a former United States Marine Corps officer who was severely wounded in the Vietnam War. He won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for his autobiography Fortunate Son.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Lewis Burwell Puller Jr. was the son of Lt. General Lewis "Chesty" Puller, the most decorated Marine in the history of the U.S. Marine Corps. He followed in his father's footsteps and became a Marine officer.

Puller graduated high school from Christchurch School in Christchurch, Virginia, in 1963 and from the College of William and Mary in 1967.[2] He received orders to Vietnam in July 1968, where he served as an Infantry Platoon Commander for three months. On October 11, 1968, his rifle jammed during an engagement with North Vietnamese troops; Puller was wounded when he tripped a booby-trapped howitzer round, losing his right leg at the hip, his left leg below the knee, his left hand and most of his fingers on his right hand in the explosion.[2]

The shell riddled his body with shrapnel, and he lingered near death for days with his weight dropping to 55 pounds, but he survived. Puller later recalled the first time his father saw him in the hospital. He described how his father broke down weeping and that hurt him more than any of his physical injuries. Those who knew him say that it was primarily because of his iron will and his stubborn refusal to die that he survived. He was medically discharged from the Marine Corps. He was awarded the Silver Star Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, two Purple Heart Medals, and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross for his service in the Marine Corps.[3]

For years after he returned to a reasonably sound physical condition, the emotional ground underneath him remained shaky, though he earned a law degree, had two children with the woman he had married before going to Vietnam, and raised a family. He was admitted to the Virginia Bar in 1974 and began working as a lawyer for the Veteran's Administration and on President Gerald Ford's clemency board.[4] He mounted a campaign for Congress in 1978 as a Democrat in Virginia but lost in a landslide with only 28% of the vote against incumbent Republican Congressman Paul Trible.[4] Throughout the years, he battled periods of despondency and drank heavily until 1981, when he underwent treatment for alcoholism. Despite that treatment, Puller continued to suffer severe depression and occasional bouts of alcoholism.

Puller told the story of his ordeal and its aftermath in his 1991 autobiography, Fortunate Son: The Autobiography of Lewis B. Puller Jr., published by Grove Press.[5] The account ended with Puller triumphing over his physical disabilities and becoming emotionally at peace with himself. The following year he won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.[1] The title of this autobiography was borrowed from the song "Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival, to which he gives credit in the opening pages.[3]

According to friends and associates, Puller spent the last months of his life in turmoil. He left his job as a lawyer at the Pentagon to accept a teaching position at George Mason University.[6] In the days leading up to his death, Puller fought a losing battle with the alcoholism that he had kept at bay for 13 years, and struggled with a more recent addiction, to painkillers initially prescribed to dull continuing pain from his wounds.[2]

Death and aftermath[edit]

Puller died from a self-inflicted gunshot on May 11, 1994. He and his wife, Linda T. (Toddy) Puller, had separated in 1991.[7]

Puller's name is not listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which is reserved for those who died or who are listed as missing in action. However, his name is listed on the nearby In Memory Memorial Plaque, which represents those veterans, like Puller, who "died after their service in the Vietnam war, but as a direct result of that service, and whose names are not otherwise eligible for placement on the memorial wall."[8]

Terry Anderson, a former Associated Press journalist, who was held hostage in Lebanon, recalled the same hope he had had for his friend, Puller. "This is a man who had so many burdens, so many things to bear. And he bore them well for 25 years," he said. "What did I miss?" Anderson asked. "I was his friend. I thought he was winning".[9]

In a statement, Puller's wife, Toddy said, "Our family has been moved and humbled by the outpouring of affection for Lewis. The many acts of kindness from our friends across the country have helped us in this very difficult time. It is clear that Lewis affected the lives of people in ways that we never knew." Of her deceased husband, she said, "To the list of names of victims of the Vietnam War, add the name of Lewis Puller ... He suffered terrible wounds that never really healed".[6] In 1991, she was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.[10]

In addition to his wife, Puller's survivors included their two children, Lewis III and Maggie, his twin sister, Martha Downs, and sister, Virginia Dabney.

On Veterans Day 2010, "The Lewis B. Puller Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic" at The College of William & Mary Law School was named in honor of Puller.[11]


External links[edit]

  1. ^ ab"Biography or Autobiography". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-10-30.
  2. ^ abcNeven, Tom (2011). On the Frontline: A Personal Guidebook for the Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Challenges of Mi. Doubleday. pp. 55–57. ISBN 978-0-307-49959-2. 
  3. ^ abPuller, Lewis B. Jr. (1991). Fortunate Son: The Healing of a Vietnam Vet. New York: Grove Weidenfeld. ISBN 0-8021-1218-8.
  4. ^ abFischer, Heinz Dietrich; Fischer, Erika J. (2002). Complete Biographical Encyclopedia of Pulitzer Prize Winners, 1917-2000: Journalists, Writers and Composers on Their Ways to the Coveted Awards. Walter de Gruyter. p. 193. ISBN 978-3-598-30186-5. 
  5. ^"Fortunate Son: the autobiography of Lewis B. Puller Jr.". Library of Congress Catalog Record. Retrieved 2013-10-30. Evidently the book was entered for the Pulitzer Prize with a different subtitle, The Healing of a Vietnam Vet.
  6. ^ abSeinfelt, Mark (1999). Final Drafts: Suicides of World-Famous Authors. Prometheus Books, Publishers. p. 421. ISBN 978-1-61592-664-0. 
  7. ^Ryan, Maureen (2008). The Other Side of Grief: The Home Front and the Aftermath in American Narratives of the Vietnam War. Cambridge: Univ of Massachusetts Press. p. 47. ISBN 1-55849-686-6. 
  8. ^Pub.L. 106–214
  9. ^The Leatherneck. Marine Corps Institute. 1997. 
  10. ^Burgheim, Richard E. (1995). People weekly yearbook: the year in review, 1994. People Weekly Books. p. 122. ISBN 978-1-883013-04-2. 
  11. ^Welch-Donahue, Jaime (2010). "Veterans Day Event to Celebrate Naming of Lewis B. Puller Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic". William & Mary Law School. 

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