Former soldier Norm Zeter sells copies of this autographed photo of Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller, when the legendary leader was a two-star. (Courtesy of Norm Zeter)
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Puller wrote this inscription in "Marine!: The Life of Chesty Puller." The copy of the biography is at the Alfred M. Gray Research Center on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. (Mike Morones / Marine Corps Times)
A former soldier with a soft spot for Marines keeps himself busy in his retirement by selling reprints of autographed photos, and one he has of Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller has a pretty cool message for noncommissioned officers.
Norm Zeter, 79, joined the Illinois National Guard after college. When Selective Service assigned him a low draft number, he volunteered to go active duty. He got out as a sergeant, but not before learning about the legendary “Chesty” Puller from his Marine friends.
So when he was given a replica of a message written by the renowned general years later, he said he knew it would resonate with Marines.
The print shows Puller as a two-star, with the following message below the photo: “With great admiration and appreciation to the noncommissioned officers of the U.S. Marine Corps. You are the backbone of our Corps. Best wishes. L.B. Puller.”
Zeter said he sells a couple hundred copies of this particular reprint each year. But when he gets an order from a junior-ranking Marine, like a lance corporal, with an Army or Fleet Post Office address, he'll often send it out to them for free, he said.
“I like Marines,” he said. “I appreciate the passion for the culture they have.”
Since the replica of the photo Zeter received wasn't addressed to anyone, he had suspicions about whether the famous general really wrote the message. But based on what his Marine friends know about Puller, it seems like something he would've written, he said.
“They all say that's the kind of guy he was,” Zeter said. “He'd give allegiance to his enlisted people instead of the officer corps.”
Marine Corps Times sent a copy of the print to the National Museum of the Marine Corps in an attempt to have an expert there confirm that it is Chesty's signature. They were unable to do so and referred the query to the Marine Corps Archives. Representatives of the archives said they were unable to comment on the validity of the signature because it would be a conflict of interest for them, but they gave a reporter access to other examples of Puller's handwriting for review. We couldn't tell for sure, either. The sample at the Archives was from later in Puller's life.
But Zeter said selling these types of prints is just something he does for fun since he enjoys history and military culture.
“I don't want to be overwhelmed with orders because I won't be able to keep up,” he said. “It's just something [to do] as a nice hobby to keep your mind going — you've got to keep your mind going in retirement.”
Zeter sells the reprints for $6.88. The National Museum of the Marine Corps could not provide an appraisal of what a real Chesty signature would go for.