Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, born in the 19th century, fought in the heaviest fighting of the 20th century, and is now a legend in this century. The most decorated Marine to ever wear the uniform, and also the most beloved, Puller left a mark on the Marine Corps that would define its culture for years to come.
Over his nearly four decades of service, Puller earned many commendations for what he did in combat, most notably the Silver Star, Distinguished Service Cross, and five Navy Crosses.
Here is how he earned those Navy Crosses.
Hunting guerrilla forces in Nicaragua.
Puller finished Officer Training Camp in 1919, just missing World War I, and then earned a commission again in Haiti fighting the Caco rebels. This combat experience taught him a lot about guerilla warfare, and he used that experience in Nicaragua.
Puller’s first received the Navy Cross during the Second Nicaraguan Campaign as a first lieutenant leading a small force of Nicaragua’s National Guard in 1930. Puller’s company, Company M, would earn itself infamy among the rebels due to the ferocity they would employ in flushing them out.
The purpose of the campaign was to protect U.S. civilians and economic interests in the country after fighting broke out between a U.S.-backed government and a guerrilla force under Augusto César Sandino. The Marine Corps was sent to train and lead the new National Guard forces against the insurgents.
Puller’s citation states that between Feb. 16 and Aug. 19, 1930, he systematically “led his forces into five successful engagements against superior numbers of armed bandit forces.” Hunting the insurgents through the jungles, Puller persecuted the enemy relentlessly.
His actions, which “dealt five successive and severe blows against organized banditry,” were exceptional and would begin his legacy as a five-time recipient of the second-highest commendation for valor in combat.