Marines perform warmup exercises prior to the annual Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller Run Oct. 13 in Saluda, Virginia. In previous years, the tribute started with a physically demanding, 66-mile relay run to the village that is located roughly 66 miles northeast of Fort Lee, and the Marines ran in formation for the final four miles. Last year’s tighter COVID restrictions would only permit a gravesite ceremony in dress-blue uniform. The four-mile run returned for the 28th iteration. (U.S. Army photo by T. Anthony Bell)
1 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Marines perform warmup exercises prior to the annual Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller Run Oct. 13 in Saluda, Virginia. In previous years, the tribute started with a physically demanding, 66-mile relay run to the village that is located roughly 66 miles northeast of Fort Lee, and the Marines ran in formation for the final four miles. Last year’s tighter COVID restrictions would only permit a gravesite ceremony in dress-blue uniform. The four-mile run returned for the 28th iteration. (U.S. Army photo by T. Anthony Bell) (Photo Credit: Terrance Bell) VIEW ORIGINAL
Marines await movement orders after completing warmups prior to the annual Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller Run Oct. 13 in Saluda.
2 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Marines await movement orders after completing warmups prior to the annual Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller Run Oct. 13 in Saluda. (Photo Credit: Terrance Bell) VIEW ORIGINAL
Marine Pfc. Yisneiri Cuello, one of the Marine Detachment guidon carriers, stands ready to participate in the annual Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller Run Oct. 13 in Saluda. (U.S. Army photo by T. Anthony Bell)
3 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Marine Pfc. Yisneiri Cuello, one of the Marine Detachment guidon carriers, stands ready to participate in the annual Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller Run Oct. 13 in Saluda. (U.S. Army photo by T. Anthony Bell) (Photo Credit: Terrance Bell) VIEW ORIGINAL
Military personnel from Marine Detachment, led by Capt. Norman Bunch, start out toward Christ Church Parish (Episcopal) during the annual Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller Run Oct. 13. The Marines started the formation run in Saluda where Puller retired, and it concluded at the cemetery where he and his wife are buried. A ceremony is conducted at the gravesite with reflections about the general’s heroic service and toasts in his honor.
4 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Military personnel from Marine Detachment, led by Capt. Norman Bunch, start out toward Christ Church Parish (Episcopal) during the annual Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller Run Oct. 13. The Marines started the formation run in Saluda where Puller retired, and it concluded at the cemetery where he and his wife are buried. A ceremony is conducted at the gravesite with reflections about the general’s heroic service and toasts in his honor. (Photo Credit: Terrance Bell) VIEW ORIGINAL
Military personnel from Marine Detachment - Fort Lee, including Operations Officer Capt. Norman Bunch leading the group, approach Christ Church Parish Cemetery during the annual Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller Run Oct. 13. The Marines started the formation run in Saluda where Puller retired, and it concluded at the cemetery where he and his wife are buried. A ceremony is conducted at the gravesite with reflections about the general’s heroic service and toasts in his honor.
5 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Military personnel from Marine Detachment - Fort Lee, including Operations Officer Capt. Norman Bunch leading the group, approach Christ Church Parish Cemetery during the annual Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller Run Oct. 13. The Marines started the formation run in Saluda where Puller retired, and it concluded at the cemetery where he and his wife are buried. A ceremony is conducted at the gravesite with reflections about the general’s heroic service and toasts in his honor. (Photo Credit: Terrance Bell) VIEW ORIGINAL
Marines prepare to toast while listening to speeches about Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller at Christ Church Parish Cemetery following a four-mile run event Oct. 13 to honor the Marine icon.
6 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Marines prepare to toast while listening to speeches about Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller at Christ Church Parish Cemetery following a four-mile run event Oct. 13 to honor the Marine icon. (Photo Credit: Terrance Bell) VIEW ORIGINAL
Christ Church Parish Rector Stuart Wood informs Marines about the life of Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, a former member of the congregation, following the Oct. 13 run honoring the Marine icon. (U.S. Army photo by T. Anthony Bell)
7 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Christ Church Parish Rector Stuart Wood informs Marines about the life of Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, a former member of the congregation, following the Oct. 13 run honoring the Marine icon. (U.S. Army photo by T. Anthony Bell) (Photo Credit: Terrance Bell) VIEW ORIGINAL
Pvt. Kolby Allred, a guidon carrier, listens to speeches about the life of Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller at Christ Church Parish Cemetery following the annual run event conducted in his honor Oct. 13. The Marines traditionally place two wreaths – one each for Puller and his wife Virginia – at the gravesites following the run.
8 / 8 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Pvt. Kolby Allred, a guidon carrier, listens to speeches about the life of Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller at Christ Church Parish Cemetery following the annual run event conducted in his honor Oct. 13. The Marines traditionally place two wreaths – one each for Puller and his wife Virginia – at the gravesites following the run. (Photo Credit: Terrance Bell) VIEW ORIGINAL

SALUDA, Va. – As a boy growing up in rural Middlesex County, Valentin Ceballos was mesmerized by Marines running through town in formation, singing cadence on the way to Christ Church Parish Episcopal Cemetery to pay homage to hometown hero Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller.

“They looked so disciplined, and I wanted to be just like them,” said the now Marine staff sergeant as he recalled the Devil Dogs’ annual 66-mile relay run from Fort Lee to Saluda where Puller retired and the cemetery where he and his wife are buried.

While it influenced his decision to join the corps, Ceballos never fathomed he would get an opportunity to be a participant in that same tribute. Upon learning a few months ago his next assignment would be Fort Lee, the probability loomed large and it became a reality Wednesday when he joined 48 of his fellow Marines for the pilgrimage to honor the iconic general.

“It felt great,” said 28-year-old after the run. “I saw people I know driving down the road. They may not have recognized me, but I recognized them. It was just a great feeling being in my hometown.”

Up until last year, the Chesty Puller commemoration always started with the physically demanding relay from Fort Lee, and the Marines ran in formation for the final four miles. Last year’s tighter COVID restrictions would only permit a gravesite ceremony in dress-blue uniform. The four-mile run returned for the 28th iteration this week.

Capt. Norman Bunch, the detachment operations officer in charge of the event, said the run is a highlight for participants, especially the Marine initial entry students who comprise most of the formation.

“By taking part in an event of this magnitude, I think they further understand leadership and the heritage and legacy we have as Marines, which may encourage them as they move forward,” he said.

To understand the enormity of the event in the eyes of the Marines, one must be knowledgeable of Puller himself. He grew up in West Point (adjacent to Saluda), attended Virginia Military Institute for a short time, and then enlisted in the corps. He later attended Officer Candidate School at Marine Corps Base Quantico.

Puller saw his first combat during the U.S. occupation of Haiti beginning in 1922. He went on to serve combat tours during the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua beginning in 1928, the Korean War beginning in 1950 and WWII in 1942. The valor he demonstrated in battle garnered a slew of accolades including five awards of the Navy Cross, one Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star. He is the most decorated Marine in history.

Pvt. Cameron McRae-Atkins knew of Puller’s legacy prior to this year’s event. He gained, however, a greater respect for the general after soaking up the experience: running past the Saluda house the retired general shared with wife, Virginia, then down Gen. Puller Highway to the cemetery for a short ceremony that included raised cups. Afterward, the 19-year-old was enthralled.

“It was pretty interesting and mesmerizing to get this connection with him and recognize the impact he made on the past, present and future of the corps,” said the Gainsville, Fla., native. “It definitely opens a door to the steps I need to take in the future and how I need to present myself while I’m in the corps.”

The takeaway was similar for Pfc. Yisneiri Cuello. The Bronx native said walking where Puller had trod was like being on hallowed ground, giving her a greater sense of history and purpose.

“It’s a feeling I never thought I could have, honestly,” said the 18-year-old, “because being in the Marine Corps to me – as a woman as well – is something I’m proud of. It’s a great feeling knowing he did so much for this country, and that I’m here hoping to do the same.”

Pfc. Kolby Allred, 19, said the legacies of leaders like Puller endure because they were built upon the very principles the corps hold dear.

“He is the embodiment of the Marines we want to be like,” said the Chesapeake, Va., native.

Those same observations are all too familiar for Ceballos, who saw his first Puller run during middle school.

“The history here is very strong, and to see it and witness it firsthand is pretty amazing,” said the native of Hartfield, situated 10 miles from Saluda. “I wish all Marines had the opportunity to participate in this to give them the same type of motivation.”

Hearing that some had speculated last year’s graveside ceremony conducted in the renowned dress blue uniforms of the Marine Corps would become the norm, Ceballos said he felt elated over the return of the formation run through town. The “sweat equity” shown over 26 years seemed like a more appropriate way to salute a Marine who led men in combat for a good portion of his career.

“That’s what I remembered as a kid,” he acknowledged. “It’s a reflection of the camaraderie we have as Marines, and how loud we can be (singing cadences) … is motivating. We are one. Nobody is an individual. We’re whole, and we get to enjoy it as a whole.”

There is no word on how the Marine Detachment will conduct next year’s ceremony, but one could guess most of them feel the demonstrated perseverance of a run is the least they could do to honor the man known as a Marine’s Marine.