Ultimate Marine: Puller vs. Butler
Carl | June 27, 2013
Who is the Ultimate Marine’s Marine? A comparison of two Marine Corps legends across three categories: Service (actions while in uniform), Legacy (how their service continued to impact the Corps and the world) and Motivation (esprit de corps and overall badassery)
Honestly, I wouldn’t bet nicknames like “Old Gimlet Eye,” “The Fighting Quaker,” and “Old Duckboard” would strike fear in the hearts of the enemy or reverence in the hearts of U.S. Marines.
“Chesty,” on the other hand, does both.
When he was just 16, Butler lied about his age to join the Marine Corps against his parents’ wishes. He received a direct commission and saw action in the Philippine-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, the Banana Wars, and World War I during his 33 years of service. Butler attained the rank of major general, which was the highest authorized Marine rank at the time, and is one of only two Marines to twice earn the nation’s highest award for valor in combat – the Medal of Honor. Both medals were earned during the Banana Wars – the first in Veracruz, Mexico, and the second in Haiti. He also earned the Marine Corps Brevet Medal, which, although obsolete, is the equivalent of a Navy Cross – the nation’s second highest award for valor in combat. Butler was the most decorated Marine in history when he died in 1940 at age 58.
Puller left after his first year of school at the Virginia Military Institute to “go where the guns are” during World War I. He saw action in Haiti and Nicaragua, China, World War II, and the Korean War during his 37 years of service. Puller attained the rank of lieutenant general before being forced to retire, and is the only Marine to receive the Navy Cross five times. Additionally, the U.S. Army awarded him their equivalent medal, the Distinguished Service Cross, making Puller the only person to receive the nation’s second highest award for valor six times. Tack on two Legions of Merit, a Silver Star, a Bronze Star with Combat ‘V’ device, and a Purple Heart, and you have the most decorated Marine in the Corps’ history.
The legacies of these two men are not unknown to anyone who has earned the eagle, globe, and anchor:
“TWO MEDALS OF HONOR!?!”
“SIR, TWO MEDALS OF HONOR IS … DAN DALY AND SMEDLEY BUTLER, SIR!!!”
“FIVE NAVY CROSSES!?!”
“SIR, FIVE NAVY CROSSES IS … CHESTY PULLER, SIR!!!”
That’s exactly how it sounds as recruits reply as loudly as possible to the screaming drill instructor running up and down the DI highway during knowledge time at boot camp.
Butler has an entire base named after him at Marine Corps Base Butler on Okinawa, Japan. And while Butler may have written a book during his retirement, Puller has been the subject of numerous books, cadences, t-shirts, and bumper stickers. The official Marine Corps mascot is named Chesty, and Marines often wish Chesty goodnight (wherever he is) and will find themselves giving one more pull-up to Chesty when they simply can’t do one more.
Puller’s mouth has also donated some of the Marine Corps’ most famous quotes, such as: “We’re surrounded. That simplifies our problem of getting to these people and killing them.”
Seeing humility in an officer is one of the most motivating things for an enlisted man. That makes this category a close call too.
Butler tried to return his first Medal of Honor after so many were awarded during the occupation of Veracruz. He felt his award diminished the prestige of the medal and that he had done nothing to deserve it. The medal was returned to him with orders to wear it.
Puller once found a second lieutenant making an enlisted man salute him 100 times for missing a salute. Puller told the lieutenant that he was correct in making the enlisted man salute him, but reminded him that good officers return every salute they receive. Puller ordered the lieutenant to return all 100 salutes to the enlisted man and even kept count for the lieutenant.
Another example of Puller’s humility is when he fined himself $100 for accidentally discharging a pistol inside an armory. He usually charged his men $20 for the same offense.
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