FORT LEE, Va. (Oct. 19, 2017) — Nearly 400 Marines participated in a 66-mile, ground-pounding journey Oct. 5 to recognize one of the corps’ greatest heroes.
The “Devil Dogs” paid their annual homage to Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, starting with an early morning relay run to the Middlesex County town of Saluda where Puller is buried.
“I was truly humbled to lead over 300 Marines in the last four miles of the run through Saluda to his final resting place at Christ Church,” said Lt. Col. Johnny G. Garza, Marine Corps Detachment Fort Lee commanding officer. “Lt. Gen. Puller’s leadership, heroism and dedication to duty is something that we should all strive to emulate.”
Puller, who grew up roughly 15 miles from Saluda in West Point, is a considered a Marine’s Marine; revered for his leadership skills and fighting spirit. The World War II and Korean War veteran earned five Navy Crosses, the U.S. Army’s Distinguished Service Cross and one Silver Star, among other awards.
Puller served 37 years as an enlisted man and officer. He died in 1971 at the age of 73.
Staff Sgt. Gualberto Aquino, who participated in the 10-hour run, said the occasion was for him a rare privilege.
“It’s a great event that takes you back to your roots, so to speak, in honoring someone who is so loved in the Marine Corps,” said the personnel chief.
The 10-hour route took the Marines – mostly students in training – past his childhood home in West Point and down Gen. Puller Highway to the cemetery where Puller is buried with his wife.
Fort Lee Marines are privileged to participate in such an event, said Aquino.
“It’s something not many people get to experience,” he said. “It was a touching moment to get to see it all and witness all that history.”
Aquino, speaking from a leader’s perspective, said he thinks the impact on the students was greater.
“From the very beginning (in boot camp), Gen. Puller is one of the first people you hear about,” he said, “so, he’s somebody Marines aspire to be. For them to experience this when they’ve only been out of boot camp maybe a month, I can only imagine what’s going through their heads. The look on their faces said they were honored they could be a part of it.”
When the Marines headed down Gen. Puller Highway to Saluda, as is tradition, a number of the townspeople stood alongside the road cheering on the runners.
“We saw lots of people waving the American and Marine Corps flags,” said Aquino. “It’s something I’ve never experienced. It showed me how much people cherish the corps and its history.”
When the full formation of runners arrived at the cemetery, Aquino said the mood became solemn as the Marines toasted their hero and some took pictures of the gravestones
“Just seeing how everyone showed their respect, how every Marine raised their glass – you could tell it was something very meaningful to them,” recalled Aquino. “Even after the toast, every single Marine in the detachment lined up and paid their respects by themselves at the grave. It was something to see; something I’ve never witnessed and was glad to.”
Logistically, the Chesty Puller run requires much from the detachment. Clearances are required to run on public highways and coordination with law enforcement is necessary, not to mention support – medical, transportation, rations, etc. – for 398 runners along the route.
“All the hard work everyone put into this – whether the student Marines or permanent personnel – is absolutely worth it,” said Aquino.
This year’s Chesty Puller Run was the 24th event organized by the Marine Corps Detachment.
Story by Terrance Bell