Marine icon 'Chesty' Puller now stands guard at Marine Corps museum
By RUSTY DENNEN | The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va. | Published: October 24, 2012
QUANTICO, Va. — Against a steel-blue sky, a giant crane finally lifted the larger-than-life bronze sculpture of Marine Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller to its place on a slab of stone a few hundred yards from the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
The transfer Tuesday of the 1,000- pound statue of the Marine icon was supposed to have been a simple operation. But in art, as sometimes in the Corps, the situation got a little more complicated.
Two three-quarter-inch holes that a contractor was supposed to have drilled in the top of the stone pedestal--to receive metal stabilizing pins on the base of the statue--had been forgotten.
Pennsylvania sculptor Terry Jones, who had seen to practically every detail in the planning, production and transfer of the statue, was incredulous.
"There's no holes!" he said. But not to worry--a large drill and bits were quickly secured, and it was mission accomplished. The likeness of Puller, the most decorated Marine, who died in 1971, was pointing the way to the museum and posterity.
The statue, in the museum's Semper Fidelis Memorial Park, will have a formal dedication Nov. 12.
Among those on hand for the statue-raising was retired Lt. Gen Robert R. Blackman Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, which oversees the museum off Interstate 95 in Triangle.
"Chesty Puller is, perhaps, the most iconic of Marines. To this day, at Parris Island and San Diego, before recruits have lights-out, they recite in unison, 'Good night, Chesty, wherever you are,'" he said.
New Marines attend boot camp at the South Carolina and California bases.
"So Chesty Puller lives with all Marines, all the time. This magnificent statue is really important to us, in terms of preserving the history, tradition and culture of the Marine Corps."
Before the stone pedestal was hoisted into place, vials of sand and soil from Korea to Haiti--where Puller had fought--were emptied into the space beneath it.
Blackman said the museum and heritage center are not intended to honor individual Marines, but Puller and a few others of legendary stature--Gen. John A. Lejeune, Gunnery Sgt. Manilla John Basilone and Sgt. Maj. Dan Daly--are exceptions.
Lejeune was the 13th commandant of the Marine Corps; Basilone the only enlisted Marine in World War II to receive the Purple Heart, Navy Cross and Medal of Honor; Daly received the Medal of Honor in Haiti in October 1915.
Blackman said Jones was commissioned to sculpt Puller based on his body of work, which includes other monumental statues, smaller sculptures of historical, military and religious figures, and coin designs.
Blackman said another factor was important: "Terry's a Marine."
Jones, 65, who lives near Valley Forge, Pa., served from 1966 to 1972. Along with the Puller sculpture, some of his other large works include likenesses of Ernest Hemingway at the Custom-House Museum of Art History in Key West, Fla.; John Philip Sousa at the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington; and Union Maj. Gen. John Gibbon at Cemetery Ridge on the Gettysburg battlefield.
Jones remembers reciting the "Chesty prayer" in boot camp.
"When you've been doing that for three months, you know Chesty Puller," he said.
When Jones got the commission for the statute, he delved deeper into Puller's 37-year military career. Among the highlights: four World War II campaigns, the Chosin Reservoir in Korea, and expeditionary service in China, Nicaragua and Haiti.
Puller was the only Marine ever to receive the Navy Cross--second only to the Medal of Honor for naval forces--five times for heroism in action.
Jones said he starts with a concept, works closely with the client "and I try to satisfy all the parties, while keeping the [project] pleasing, artistically and design-wise."
He added, "There's only so much you can do with a standing figure, so I had to come up with a couple different concepts."
The consensus choice was the gruff, pointing version of Puller.
Jones said, smiling, "I looked at this mug for a solid year."
When the statue was firmly in place, retired Lt. Gen. Stephen G. Olmstead walked over to Jones to compliment him on capturing Puller's scowl. Olmstead was a private in Puller's 1st Marine Regiment at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea.
"That is what I remember from the old man, and you got it perfect," Olmstead said.
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431