It’s a story that Barbara Zagrodnik believes needs to be told, so she’s working on a film project to honor the life of a highly decorated Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller.
“He’s a Marine hero…He’s won five Navy crosses. He’s the only Marine to ever do that,” said the Aiken woman, who plans to create a limited video series based on his life and accomplishments. Last week, she was in Augusta’s IndieGrip studios filming segments to help with a crowd funding campaign.
Her first goal is to raise enough funds to create a proof of concept. The short film will be a scene from “El Tigre,” the first episode in the series, according to the film’s website, bravery-in-action.com.
Born in 1898 in West Point, Va., Puller served in the Marine Corps for 37 years. The Navy Cross is the highest award a member of the Navy, U.S. Marines or U.S. Coast Guard can earn. He received two Navy Crosses in the early 1930s for his actions in Nicaragua; he received another two during World War II at Guadalcanal and at Cape Gloucester, New Guinea; and he received his fifth while leading the 1st Marines in Korea in the Chosin Reservoir, according to the website for the Hall of Valor project, a searchable database of valor awards curated by the Military Times.
The gripping story of his heroism has led Zagrodnik to the project.
Puller was a decorated hero, but his story doesn’t follow the traditional Hollywood story arc, according to Zagrodnik, and she suspects that’s probably the reason his story hasn’t been made into a Hollywood film. The closest thing to it was a John Ford documentary, narrated by John Wayne in the 1970s.
As with any military hero, there are myths and legends concerning Puller. Several have to do with his nickname.
One said that it had to do with his “boisterous, commanding voice that was miraculously heard over the sounds of battle,” according to a 2019 Business Insider article. “There are even some that say that it is literal – and that his chest was hacked away in the banana wars and replaced with an iron steel slab.”
One of his signature possessions was his pipe, which Zagrodnik used in her trailer.
Photographs and film footage often show him smoking it. He is said to have been smoking the pipe during the actions at Guadalcanal when he earned his third Navy Cross.
Because he is so revered among the Marine Corps, Zagrodnik plans to be careful about her portrayal of him.
“I want to stay faithful to the real story,” she said.
This isn’t Zagrodnik’s first film.
She was the writer and assistant director for the indie film “Driver’s Ed: Tales from the Street” and served as the location production assistant for the DC Films “The Suicide Squad” which is in post-production. “The Suicide Squad” filmed scenes at Augusta’s jail on 4th Street and Walton Way in October 2019.
Another project she’s working on is based on Aiken’s fabulously wealthy winter colony residents. She received a Porter Fleming Foundation grant to create a proof of concept for a television series. She filmed the proof of concept in September and is working to get it out to networks now.
To learn more about Zagrodnik’s project, visit the website bravery-in-action.com. To raise funds for her project, there’s a Seed and Spark campaign underway at www.seedandspark.com/fund/bravery-in-action.