What Would Chesty Do?

Ed Raymond

Let’s see. We send our young “volunteers” to war from poor small towns in poor counties. They choose to get out of a dull town and make something of themselves. They can’t afford to go to college, so they will risk limb and life because the GI Bill may be the ticket to their idea of Nirvana. So at first they are willing to participate in an overseas war in “romantic” places completely different from their own experiences. 

   But then the war zone turns to horror as they scrape the body parts of friends torn to bits by mortars and IEDs off their uniforms. It turns to horror when they hear of fellow soldiers or Marines emasculated, tortured, and beheaded by the enemy. They get their service numbers tattooed on their extremities so if they lose a significant body part in a blast, with a little bit of luck, it may be reattached.

   But then in our innocent, isolated world, where we were told to power-shop as a war sacrifice, we are “upset,” “disgusted,” outraged,” while the politicians scream phrases such as “utterly deplorable” and civilian shrinks seek their 15 minutes of TV fame by saying four Marines pissing on dead Taliban “almost tops other more ghastly war crimes.” 

    I understand the four Marines pictured relaxing in the famous “urination” video were members of a sniper unit. People should understand that’s about killing quietly and efficiently—and being killed quietly and efficiently. When you are close enough to have an enemy in your sights, you are also close enough to be in the sights of your enemy. Most snipers are ordinary people turned into killers because they can shoot straight. In some ways, it is a simple combat life. As one sniper said, “You wait for a target to show himself, then you take your shot and get the hell out of there.”

Teaching The Rules Of The Geneva Convention And Other Treaties

   As a Marine heavy machine gun platoon leader and executive officer of a rifle company during the middle 1950s, it was one of my responsibilities to teach the rules of the Geneva Convention (and our other treaties) on how to wage war in a gentlemanly fashion. There are all kinds of rules on how to treat civilians humanely, what weapons can be used, and how to treat prisoners, the wounded, and enemy dead. You are serious about teaching Marquis of Queensberry rules because you hope against hope that your captured, wounded, and dead troops will be treated with respect.

   Many of the officers and enlisted I served with from 1951 to 1957 (reserve and active) were veterans of several Caribbean “police actions,” World War II, and Korea. They had served from Haiti to China, from Cuba to Nicaragua to Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Guadacanal, Peleliu, and the Chosin Reservoir. During some of my time in service, I was under the command of Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller, known as “Chesty” by his fellow Marines. He was only about 5’6” but had a full “Dolly Parton” pouter-pigeon chest.

  Among many distinctions, Chesty had two major ones. He is the only Marine I know of who started as a lowly private and ended up a general. Chesty could have been Commandant of the Marine Corps at the end of his career, but he had the bad habit of always telling truth to power. He scared the hell out of politicians who would have had to approve his nomination.

  For 27 of his 37 years in the Corps, Chesty was at sea or overseas. He fought against the Caco rebels in Haiti for five years. He fought in Nicaragua for three years and commanded the famous “Horse Marines” in China. He was involved with practically every major WW II action in the Pacific, including Guadacanal, the defense of Henderson Airfield, and most of our island landings. Excluding medals from foreign governments, Chesty earned 14 major combat decorations, among them five Navy Crosses, and is still the most decorated Marine in history. He was even awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by the U.S. Army, a medal equal to the highest Navy medal, the Navy Cross. He had so many other campaign medals, unit citation ribbons, and other awards that there wasn’t enough room on his big chest for them. At the age of 68, Chesty volunteered to return to active duty to fight in Vietnam, but was rejected because of age. 

“War Is Absolute Hell”

    Chesty is a legend among enlisted Marines. He was tough, inspirational, and a straight-shooter in more ways than one. He always took care of the enlisted first. I remember him advising his officers when we were out in the field one time that he “would transfer them to Butte, Montana” if they ate before their men did. I still don’t know what Chesty had against Butte. I don’t think there is any question he ranks with the finest combat leaders the U.S. has produced. He and Army General George Patton were distant cousins. Patton was no slouch himself, and this is what “Old Blood and Guts” said in 1945 to his command in Europe about Marines in the Pacific: “I want you boys to hurry up and whip these Germans so we can get out to the Pacific to kick the shit out of the purple-pissing Japanese before the Goddamned Marines get all the credit.”

  Chesty had a stark description of war and fought it in the same way: “War is absolute hell. To win you have to kill everyone in sight, then let the politicians sort it out. You don’t hurt ‘em if you don’t kill ‘em.” His sayings while in combat are beyond legend: “So they’ve got us surrounded—good! Now we can fire in any direction—those bastards won’t get away this time!” 

Why Don’t You Trade Places With Them?

   But the one statement that has stuck with me for many years is one Chesty made when he reported to a new duty station between WW II and Korea: “Take me to the brig. I want to see the real Marines!” He wanted to see the fighters. 

   I think I know what Chesty would do with the four pissing Marines. He would say, “War is not glorious or nice. If you have never experienced it, you have no idea what unimaginable hell it is. When you kill someone who had just tried to kill you, you are definitely not in the mood to put flowers on his chest. If you still object to what the Marines did, the recruiting stations are open. Go trade places with them. The average age of our troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan is barely 22. We could use more mature brains. Remember the brain is not completely filled out until 25.”  

   Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said their actions were “inconsistent with American values.” I think that is a fine, usable summary statement. After “a thorough investigation of every aspect of the filmed event,” as Marine Commandant James Amos has requested, leave the four twisting for a while in the hot, angry breath of civilians who sent them to war, then send them a letter of reprimand and transfer them to a new duty station—Butte, Montana.

Does Taking A Knee In The End Zone Reveal A Streak Of Arrogance?

   I have played in hundreds of baseball games and almost a hundred high school and college football games, so I have a large dog in the hunt when it comes to celebratory actions of players on the diamond or gridiron. One sees a defensive end run five yards into the open in the first quarter after sacking the quarterback, and pound his chest while screaming oaths to the crowds. He gesticulates like he just won the game. Instead of celebrating, he should be thinking about playing his position so the opposing halfback doesn’t make 40 yards around his end on the next play. 

  Then there is the second baseman who hits a dying quail to right with two outs, slides dramatically into second, and claps his hands for 15 seconds congratulating himself. But the one act that bugs me the most is the sign of the cross invoking The Supreme Manager while stepping into the batter’s box, or the same sign before shooting the free throw. Or the pointing and gazing at the Supreme Manager while standing at first after beating out a bunt. Or the knee in the end zone and the bowing of the head to Knute God before 70,000. I guess I’m really Tebowed out.

Did You Ever See Kirby Make The Sign Of The Cross After Striking Out?

    I remember Kirby Puckett of the Twins, who could hit anything thrown by anyone at any time, even if it was thrown over his head. Kirby did not like to walk. He usually crossed himself before swinging the lumber. Hell, he didn’t need God’s help to hit anything. But when he woke up one morning and he couldn’t see out of one eye, that’s when he needed God’s help. Did you ever see Kirby make the sign of the cross after striking out? Call me if you did.

  I watched the Denver Bronco–New England Patriot playoff game the other night out of curiosity and a love for the game. I wanted to see Tom Brady, who plays quarterback like Knute God would, and I was curious about Tim Tebow, who thinks Knute God may anoint his left arm. I kept waiting for Tebow to take a knee and bow. Does he take a knee and a bow only when he scores? He must have gone three-and-out a dozen times against the agnostic Patriots and I never saw him take a knee. I guess he finally realized God was throwing touchdowns on the other side.

   It reminded me of an old Woody Allen joke about religion. Woody was a sometime agnostic, so he asked God, “Please, God, give me a sign. Put a couple of million bucks in a Swiss bank account for me and I will believe.” Like Woody, I was waiting for the field lights to suddenly go out, or have the football be like a steaming-hot potato when the Patriots were on offense, or have a sudden thunder and lightning storm in the middle of a snowy Boston January. Nothing happened. Tebow played quarterback like Job or Judas would—and never went to a knee.

What Does God Do On Friday Nights In Football-Mad Texas?

 There must be dozens of Muslims playing professional sports. Have you ever seen a devout wide receiver, a follower of Mohammad, call timeout, run to the sidelines to get his prayer rug, and point it toward Mecca? There must a Tennessee Snake Handler who plays NBA basketball because Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana are the centers of basketball and snake worshipers in this country. Can you imagine a sneaky little guard stuffing a diamondback in the shorts of the opponents’ seven-foot center?

And then we have the Minnesota Vikings, who are loaded with Norsemen named Peterson, Aromashdu, and Shiancoe. We must have a large number of Vikings who worship Odin, the chief god of all Vikings. Odin is not only the Norse god of war and death, he is also the god of poetry and wisdom. We know that Odin loves the Vikings. Like many Viking players, he traded one eye for a drink from the Well of Wisdom. He is now so wise he consumes nothing but wine. That’s why the Vikings practice during the week like Valhalla warriors and play like poets on Sunday afternoons.

I don’t recall a .220 hitter pointing at the heavens and making the sign of the cross after he has struck out on a pitch that hit the dirt in front of the plate. But there are many good hitters who make religious signs. Albert Pujols of the Anaheim Angels, who now has the biggest contract in baseball, seems to make the sign of the cross every time he steps into the box. However, I have never seen him do it after striking out. What does that mean? Was God too busy with former Twins catcher Drew Butera batting .157, who has gone 1 for 46?

Sometime I would like to see the following scene take place at Target Stadium. Jason Verlander of the Detroit Tigers, Cy Young winner who throws 100 mph, is on the mound. Matt Tolbert of the Twins, batting .198, steps in the box with men on second and third and two out. Suddenly Matt steps out, makes the sign of the cross and points to the heavens. The crowd of 47,000 spontaneously erupts in laughter, knowing that it is going to take more than a sign of the cross and God to get a hit off Verlander. Tolbert has been Tebowed.

Raymond is a former Marine officer and school board superintendent, and resides in Detroit Lakes