The book Marine: The Life of Chesty Puller, tells the story of the most decorated Marine in American history. Chesty Puller. In Part 4, our final section, he addresses failure in Korea, and his regrets about home. Below, some excerpts from the last chapters.
His wife, through all of his four decades of overseas service, remained faithful. But it was a challenge, as evidenced by letters in the last part of the book. His life bears the question of how can a great man happen without a wife supporting him?
- It is obvious from his Korea letter at Christmas that he has regrets. Are regrets enough?
- Puller’s son followed him into service, and lost his legs, and a hand. At one point early in his life, he counseled Lewis Jr. not to join. How much does what we do win out over what we say?
- What if our major decisions in life have been wrong?
- How are we leading our families? Whose responsibility is it?
Letter sent on Christmas in Korea
A letter from Mrs. Puller arrived a day or two after Christmas.
He replied: I hate to think of all the worry that I have caused you, Sweetheart. Maybe I would not have permitted you to have married me, if I had known all this was coming on! I would have at least hesitated. I meant to give you only happiness and believed that I could. Never fear. This too will pass, and with the help of God I will come home for you and our precious children before too long. That will be a glorious day and I will never want to have you or them out of my sight again. I must have known (I did know) that this separation was ahead of us and that accounts for my reluctance to ever leave our home even to go to see a moving-picture or out to dinner.…
How thankful I am to have your true, fine and great love, Dear, and I value it more than life. It is right for people to love deeply, as that is the only way for lasting love.
Please tell Lewis that I will finally come home and teach him how to shoot and many other things that boys and men must know.… Tell him to be patient and the swords and a helmet I sent him will arrive.… Tell him to change his bait in the rabbit trap every few days—a piece of apple, lettuce, carrot, celery, and turnip, and that he must not go near the trap or touch it except to change bait or when the door is sprung; also he must keep the dog away from it.…
The mail service has been excellent out here, and in my opinion this is all that the Air Force has accomplished during the war.… I haven’t minded the hardships here but the killing and crippling of the young men is awful. Due to the weather our wounded die; blood plasma freezes before it can be administered.… I realize that this war is far harder on you than it has been on me and I am sorry to have caused you all the worry and pain.… I will never be able to understand the difference between our enlisted men and young officers and those of the Army. There appears to be no example of leadership in the latter organization. No pride and nothing to look up to. The truth is unknown.
… I wish the world was different, especially our country, but I’m afraid that I cannot do anything about changing the world or our country. I can only pray and trust that God will give us leaders who are wise.
Please rest assured that I am not volunteering for any assignment that will separate us or keep us separated. I want to return to you.…
The Pentagon is largely responsible for this mess out here—they were given the money to provide and train an Army. When I entered the service, the regulations stated that the object of all military training is “success in battle.” This short sentence has been rewritten on three pages and I defy anyone to read it over three or more times and then explain what the object of military training is. Even the Pentagon has not the slightest idea why they are commanding the forces of the United States. In fact, out here, we wonder if we are a part of the United States.…
I will not influence my son as to choosing a profession. It will be up to him. I will not even recommend the service. I have had to stand with my mouth closed on too many occasions and then carry out orders from too many halfwits.…
On Failure and Honesty
His last days in Korea were frustrating to Puller, who found things suddenly different. He wrote his wife:
“Now age has probably changed me, and the Corps has changed, too, due, I suppose, to man being what he is today. I never thought this change could or would happen. Maybe I have been wrong from the beginning.
On The Korean War
A candid picture of the Korean war:“What the American people want to do is fight a war without getting hurt. You can’t do that any more than you can go into a barroom brawl without getting hurt.“
Unless the American people are willing to send their sons out to fight an aggressor, there’s just not going to be any United States. A bunch of foreign soldiers will take over.
“Air power can’t live up to its billing out there. Somebody—not so much the aviators as the aircraft manufacturers—has sold the American people a bill of goods as to what air power can do. From what I’ve seen, one bomb will hit a section of railroad track and one hundred bombs will miss, some of them by miles. The enemy puts coolies on the track with picks and shovels and in twenty-four hours they’re rolling again. The answer is infantry.
“Our officer corps have had far too much schooling and far too little combat experience. They can’t learn war like that.“
Push-button war is as far off as in the days of Julius Caesar. The rifle, hand grenade and bayonet are still the most important weapons. We’re going to lose the next war if we don’t get back to them.… Why, half our infantry out there is still armed with carbines, against the enemy with their fine Russian rifles.”
He then turned to the training of Marines, which he would soon be conducting at Camp Pendleton:
“We’ve got to get ’em tougher to survive. Throw all these girls out of camp. Get rid of the ice cream and candy. Get some pride in ’em—that’s what we need now most of all, pride.”
On Youth in the Sixties
Mrs. Puller went regularly to meetings of the Middlesex County P.T.A. group, but Lewis had never been. One evening, at her insistence, he ventured forth to a special occasion. A panel of local experts dealt with the decline of the nation as expressed in the rising tide of juvenile delinquency. The consensus was that the country was going to hell in a handbucket.
In the end, the experts proposed that the county’s parents band together and stage two parties each week, on school nights, since the plight of the younger
generation was the fault of parents. Someone then made the tactical error of calling for questions. General Puller stood, and his intended mildness of tone, as usual, came forth in a brazen roar:
“I want you people to know something—as long as we can get some decent leadership in our country, our youth of today will be better men than their fathers or grandfathers. I saw enough in Korea to make me sure of that. Our forefathers at Valley Forge have been mentioned here tonight, as they often are. Well, I can tell you that Valley Forge was something like a picnic compared to what your young Americans went through at the Chosin Reservoir, and they came out of it fine. It never was anything like twenty-five below zero at Valley Forge, either.
“I admit we don’t seem to have proper leadership at the top, but there’s nothing wrong with kids today. This two parties a week sounds like foolishness to me. My wife and I follow the ideas my mother used on her kids, making them study each night after supper, and when they report that they have mastered their lessons, quizzing them. That’s how my brother and I were handled, and the method got my older daughter on the dean’s list at Smith College, and my son on the headmaster’s list at Christchurch School, and helps my younger daughter make out well in public school, thanks to her mother. I find that a great deal of what I learned in public school came through my mother. “Our children don’t need to be coddled, and they shouldn’t be condemned. Above all, for heaven’s sake, let your sons alone and let them grow up to be men.”
He sat down to an abrupt burst of applause, and when the meeting adjourned many people pressed around to shake hands and clap him on the back. The scheme for biweekly youth parties was abandoned.