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Chesty Puller: The Life and Quotes of a Beloved Marine Legend

From the hilarious to heartfelt, take a look at eight quotes from the accomplished Marine.

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  • Photo Credit: USMC Archives / Flickr (CC)

Practically from the day of his birth, it was clear that Lewis Puller was destined for military greatness. Better known as Chesty Puller, the boy spent his youth listening to veterans discuss their time in the Civil War–perhaps to fill the void that the death of his father created.

Chesty Puller would go on to become a United States Marine officer whose accomplishments remain unmatched to this day. The most decorated marine in United States history, Chesty Puller was a fearless leader who dedicated his entire life to his country and his troops. Known for his sharp wit, resilience, and expertise in combat situations, Puller was truly one of the greatest troops to ever fight for our country.

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Puller was born in 1898 to Matthew and Martha Puller in West Point, Virginia. The stories he heard about the Civil War fostered what would become a lifelong adulation of Stonewall Jackson. He attempted to join the army before his 18th birthday, in 1916, but his mother refused consent–Chesty would have to wait just a bit long before beginning his storied career.

In 1917, Puller joined the Virginia Military Institute as a step towards his long-desired army entrance. He quickly realized that staying in school meant staying away from the action, and, only a year later, enlisted in the United States Marine Corps

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Hoping to get in on some of the action, Puller enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1918 to train and put his skills to the test. Despite his stellar performance in the Marines and being appointed a second lieutenant in the reserves, Puller missed out on World War I. Not to worry though–Chesty would have many opportunities to shine on the battlefield in the following years.

Puller served as a lieutenant in Haiti during the Banana Wars in the early 1920s. Even during his first ever experience on the battlefront, Puller’s extensive training and leadership abilities shone through during the toughest of battles. After a tough but successful campaign, Puller would continue rising through the ranks for the next few decades.

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  • Chesty Puller at age 50.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

After fighting through World War II and the Korean War, Puller had finally decided to retire in 1955. Over his astounding 37 years of fighting, Puller was able to snag over 25 military awards, and was one of two people in military history to receive the second-highest U.S. military award six times. 

When asked about his nickname, Puller was never really sure how and why “Chesty” came about. Having been called plenty of names before during his time on the battlefield, Puller was always fascinated with how Chesty stuck. Regardless, he embraced the nickname, and went on to become a legend and icon in U.S Marine Corp history, even past his death in 1971. To this day, officers who are training troops will always make mention of Chesty in chants during exercises. 

Related: 8 Powerful Korean War Books that Capture the Conflict 

In life, Puller was an American hero like no other. Many of Puller’s exploits, achievements, and snarky quips can be found in Burke Davis’s beloved biography of the soldier, Marine! The New York Times bestselling author goes into riveting detail about Puller’s humble beginnings and gradual rise in the Marines. Filled with exciting war scenes and anecdotes about the accomplished marine, this book is an absolute must-read for veterans and military history buffs alike.

With a tongue just as sharp as his physical skills, Puller is easily one of the most quotable soldiers in our country's history. Many of the marine’s famous sayings are often delivered with such undeniable American gusto that you can’t help but chuckle at each one. These Chesty Puller quotes paint an incredibly humorous, honorable image of the accomplished marine. 

“I want to go where the guns are!”

When Puller attended the Virginia Military Institute during his early years, he was extremely eager to fight on the front lines. Hearing about the battles being fought during World War I, Puller had a quick response when asked why he dropped out of Virginia Military Institute and signed up for the Marines.

Related: 9 Thrilling Military Documentaries on Netflix and More 

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  • Chesty Puller cutting the Marine Corps birthday cake.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“Don’t forget that you’re First Marines! Not all the Communists in hell can overrun you!”

During the Korean War, Puller was caught up in Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. This decisive battle proved to be a grueling and deadly conflict that would put Puller and his troops to the test. Working through the harsh conditions, Chesty reminded his soldiers that they would be successful no matter what–if he had anything to do with it, at least.

"Where the hell do you put the bayonet?"

Chesty Puller was always ready for a good fight, and this quote sure proves it. Apparently, when he was being shown how to use a flamethrower for the first time during World War II, Puller asked this. In addition to setting his enemies ablaze, he also wanted to know whether or not a flamethrower could stab them like the old school bayonet on a rifle. Enthusiastic, in this case, is an understatement.

Related: 10 World War II Propaganda Posters: From Patriotic to Peculiar 

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  • Chesty Puller (right) exploring Korean terrain.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“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.”

Puller also said this during that brutal battle at Chosin Reservoir. Seeing themselves surrounded by enemies on all four sides of the field, Puller had no choice but to stay defensive until there was an opportunity for escape. In an effort to keep his troops looking on the bright side, Puller unleashed this incredibly optimistic statement.

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“Paperwork will ruin any military force.”

As someone who was all about action and seeing quick results, waiting for command approval, or orders via mail was the bane of Chesty’s existence. 

Related: How War Pigeons Changed the Course of Battle–and History 

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  • Chesty Puller being welcomed to Camp Pendleton, a military base in San Diego, California.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“Pain is weakness leaving the body.”

Chesty would say this constantly during training to keep the troops in line. Puller had seen his fair share of battles at this point, so he probably knew a thing or two about pain. But in all honesty, this is quite a motivating statement–and has even made it outside of military circles.

“Old breed? New breed? There’s not a damn bit of difference so long as it’s the Marine breed.”

During World War II, there was tension between older soldiers who joined the Marines before Pearl Harbor and younger ones who joined after its shocking occurrence. In the end, the rivalry didn’t cause too many issues, but Chesty wasn’t having any of it at all. In order to shut everyone up on both ends, Chesty reminded everyone that they were all part of the same team.

Related: 21 Essential World War II Books That Examine Every Angle of the Conflict 

“I assure you, Virginia, that I, never in my life, have ever made a statement that 'I like to fight.'"

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  • Chesty Puller and his wife Virginia. 

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This heartwarming statement was written by Puller in a letter to his wife Virginia. A newspaper had quoted him saying that he enjoyed fighting, and his wife complained to him, finding it rather disturbing. In response to her, Puller reassured Virginia that he was not as much of a brute as the newspaper was making him out to be. Although he loved serving his country, at the end of the day he wanted to be home with his wife and family. 

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Featured photo: USMC Archives / Flickr (CC)