“Passionate. . . . Puller writes with simplicity and candor, with touches of spontaneous humor. His outcry of agony and isolation, while harrowing, leaves one primarily overwhelmed with wonder at the torture a human being can absorb this side of madness.” William Styron, The New York Times Book Review
The Autobiography of Lewis B. Puller, Jr.
978-0-8021-3690-9 • $18.00 • Paperback • May 2000
Lewis B. Puller, Jr.—the son of “Chesty” Puller, a hero of World War II and the Korean War and the most decorated marine in the corps history—grew up in a family whose strongest tradition was that of serving one’s country. Upon graduation from college at the height of the Vietnam War, young Lewis almost inevitably joined the Marine Corps, and his firm intention of commanding infantry troops was fulfilled with a tour of duty in Vietnam in the summer of 1968. A few months later, he returned home to his wife and soon-to-be-born child missing his left leg above the knee, his right leg at the torso, most of his left hand, and a thumb and a finger of his right hand.
Lewis Puller would never walk again, though he would complete law school, serve on President Ford’s Clemency Board, and run for Congress from Virginia. He would also live with nightmares about his wounding in Vietnam, daytime horrors of feeling that he had been “used up and discarded” and a growing dependence on alcohol. But amid his struggles both mental and physical, Lewis Puller’s greatest challenge was to wrestle with his father’s legacy, to attempt to come to terms with both its honor and its snares: “If I could now summon the courage to forgive my government, to forgive those whose views and actions concerning the war differed from mine, and to forgive myself, I could perhaps move into the present, attain a degree of serenity, and find the reason for which I had been spared, first in Vietnam and then a second time, an alcoholic death.”
Lewis Puller’s is a story of the contradictory forces of family tradition and individual experience, and the strains of deep feeling—personal, political, and professional—that have riven our country for almost two decades and that still play themselves out among hundreds of thousands of veterans. Lewis Puller has overcome physical and psychological obstacles that few have faced: fewer still have told their stories more openly, more honestly, or more devastatingly.