“Chesty” Puller

The Marines Called Her Reckless

Reckless_with_Sgt__Latham

“I was surprised at her beauty and intelligence, and believe it or not, her esprit de corps. Like any other Marine, she was enjoying a bottle of beer with her comrades. She was constantly the center of attraction and was fully aware of her importance. If she failed to receive the attention she felt her due, she would deliberately walk into a group of Marines and, in effect, enter the conversation. It was obvious the Marines loved her.”

Lieutenant General Randolph Pate 

One of the most beloved members of the Marine Corps went into battle on four feet.  A mare of Mongolian mixed breed, the horse who would become Sergeant Reckless was foaled in 1948 in South Korea.  Originally named Ah Chim Hai, Morning Flame, she was sold to Lieutenant Eric Pederson, USMC,  for $250.00 in October of 1952.  (The owner was a stable boy who needed the money to buy an artificial leg for his sister who had stepped on a land mine.)

Pedersen bought the horse, which had been a race horse, to serve as a pack animal for his recoiless rifle platoon of the 5th Marine regiment.  The platoon called her Reckless after the platoon’s nickname of Reckless Rifles.  Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Latham gave Reckless an equine version of boot camp, known in her case as hoof camp.  He taught her how to avoid getting tangled up in barbed wire, how to lay down under fire, and to run to a bunker when hearing the shout “Incoming”.  Latham had his wife mail a pack saddle from the states so that Reckless could better fulfill her role of being a pack animal from the platoon.  Reckless quickly became a platoon favorite and was given the freedom to roam the platoon encampment at night and to enter tents at will.  She loved cokes and beer, and would eat with enthusiasm whatever she could get her mouth on, including, one dark day, $30.00 worth of winning poker chips of Latham.

However, Reckless quickly demonstrated that she was not a mere mascot or pet.  In the battle of Hedy’s Crotch she proved fearless in transporting shells for the recoiless rifles of the platoon.  At first alarmed by the sounds of the rifles going off, by the end of the day she was calmly going about her business.  A highly intelligent horse, she only needed to be led the first few times, and afterwards would make the trips bringing up the shells on her own.

At the battle of Outpost Vegas, March 26-28, 1953, she received a promotion to Corporal for her sterling service, including on one day 51 solo trip bringing up 386 shells.  She was slightly wounded twice during the engagement for which she was awarded two Purple Hearts.

Outside of battle Reckless performed many functions, including stringing telephone lines.  It was said that she could string telephone lines at a rate that it would take 12 men to match.  She enjoys the distinction of being the only horse to participate in a Marine Corps amphibious landing.  →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Chesty Puller and Catholic Chaplains

 

Some men become legends after their deaths and others become legends while they are alive.  Lewis Burwell Puller, forever known as “Chesty”, was in the latter category.  Enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1918 he would serve until 1955, rising in rank from private to lieutenant general.  Throughout his career he led from the front, never asking his men to go where he would not go.  For his courage he was five times awarded the Navy Cross,  a Silver Star,  a Distinguished Service Cross, and a Bronze Star with a v for valor, along with numerous other decorations.  In World War II and Korea he became a symbol of the courage that Marines amply displayed in  both conflicts.

His fourth Navy Cross citation details why the Marines under his command would have followed him in an attack on Hades if he had decided to lead them there:

“For extraordinary heroism as Executive Officer of the Seventh Marines, First Marine Division, serving with the Sixth United States Army, in combat against enemy Japanese forces at Cape Gloucester, New Britain, from 26 December 1943 to 19 January 1944. Assigned temporary command of the Third Battalion, Seventh Marines, from 4 to 9 January, Lieutenant Colonel Puller quickly reorganized and advanced his unit, effecting the seizure of the objective without delay. Assuming additional duty in command of the Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, from 7 to 8 January, after the commanding officer and executive officer had been wounded, Lieutenant Colonel Puller unhesitatingly exposed himself to rifle, machine-gun and mortar fire from strongly entrenched Japanese positions to move from company to company in his front lines, reorganizing and maintaining a critical position along a fire-swept ridge. His forceful leadership and gallant fighting spirit under the most hazardous conditions were contributing factors in the defeat of the enemy during this campaign and in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

Stories began to cluster about him.  When he was first shown a flame thrower he supposedly asked, “Where do you mount the bayonet?”    Advised that his unit was surrounded he replied:  “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.”  On an inspection tour of a Marine unit he became exasperated at the lack of spirit he saw and finally said,”Take me to the Brig. I want to see the real Marines!”  During the Chosin campaign in Korea when the Marines were fighting their way to the coast through several Communist Chinese corps he captured the tactical situation succinctly:  “Retreat! Hell, we’re just attacking in a different direction.”  Little surprise that Marine Drill Instructors at Parris Island still have their boots sing good night to Chesty Puller some four decades after his death.

Puller was an Episcopalian.  However he made no secret that he greatly admired Navy Catholic chaplains who served with the Marines, and had little use, with certain honorable exceptions, for the Navy Protestant chaplains sent to the Corps.  His reasons were simple.  The Catholic chaplains were without fear, always wanted to be with the troops in combat, and the men idolized them for their courage and their willingness, even eagerness, to stand with them during their hour of trial. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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