Chesty: The Story of Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller, USMC
Contributor: David Stubblebine
Review Date: 24 Feb 2013
The history of the United States Marine Corps has many large figures, but it is possible that there is no single figure larger than Chesty Puller. He served the Marines in four wars and is the only Marine to receive the Navy Cross five times. This book catalogs the whole of Chesty Puller's story, laying aside some of the accumulated myths, so that what remains is a well-rounded and objective look at a truly remarkable man.
The task of telling the story of this top Marine could not have fallen to a better person than Colonel Jon T. Hoffman, USMCR, the deputy director of the Marine Corps History and Museums Division. Before Chesty, Col Hoffman had already written another biography for the Corps, on "Red Mike" Edson, and later the Corps commissioned him to write a complete history of the Marine Corps. His experience and ability to research and prepare an historical chronicle on anything involving the Marines is unequaled.
Before reading this book, I read the earlier and more compact Marine! The Life of Chesty Puller by Burke Davis. I would quickly recommend both books but I would also recommend reading them in this same order, in the order they were written.
In writing this book, Col Hoffman set out to write the story of Chesty Puller's life and career from all sides based on documented sources rather than rehashing the many accounts of the Chesty legend. In so doing, he knew he would reinforce the correct parts of the earlier Marine! and set straight the other parts. The author accomplished all of these goals and far, far more.
I knew only a little about Chesty Puller before picking up these two books but I finished this one with a sense that I had come to know Chesty a little bit. Col Hoffman wrote the story the way the facts led him and so what emerged was the story of a man as he was, in this case a great man, but a man nonetheless. The book did not shy away from Chesty's faults and frailties any more than it avoided his many accomplishments.
The book traces the life of Lewis Burwell Puller from childhood in Virginia through his most storied military career to his death as a retired warrior in 1971. Every paragraph was annotated with endnotes listing his sources, sometimes multiple sources, in support of every statement in the book. But instead of just writing an encyclopedic listing of the collected facts, Col Hoffman crafted the events into a captivating story of Puller's life and achievements.
The worst thing I could say about this book was that it was a little long (538 pages plus another 68 pages of endnotes). I cannot call this a complaint, however, because Chesty led a very full life (understatement) and the book was as long as it had to be to tell that story. Long or short, I would readily recommend this book.
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945