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Pulitzer Prize-Winner Lewis B. Puller Jr. Commits Suicide, School Says

May 12, 1994 GMT

FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) _ Former U.S. Marine Lewis B. Puller Jr., whose autobiography recounting his experiences as a disabled Vietnam veteran won him a Pulitzer Prize, committed suicide Wednesday. He was 48.

A family friend who spoke on condition of anonymity said Puller shot himself.

Laura Massie, a spokeswoman for George Mason University, where Puller was in his second year as a writer-in-residence, confirmed that Puller killed himself.

Fairfax County police said only they were investigating a death at Puller’s residence.

Puller was the son of the most highly decorated Marine in U.S. history, Gen. Lewis ″Chesty″ Puller.

He was a second lieutenant and combat platoon leader until he stepped on an enemy landmine in 1968. The explosion tore away his legs and parts of both hands.

His book, ″Fortunate Son: The Healing of a Vietnam Vet,″ was about his life as his father’s son, his Vietnam experiences and his struggle with depression and alcoholism after the war. The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

Jan Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, said he spoke last week with his friend and that he sounded depressed. ″His marriage was ending,″ Scruggs said.

Friends told The Washigton Post that Puller had started drinking again and that he had struggled recently with an addiction to prescription painkillers.

″Alcohol was the source of his problems before. But it seems like he got ahold of it. Maybe not,″ John Terzano, president of the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation told The Associated Press.

Puller’s wife, Linda T. ″Toddy″ Puller, was notified of her husband’s death in Richmond. A state legislator, she was attending a special session of the General Assembly.

″To the list of names of victims of the Vietnam War, add the name of Lewis Puller,″ she said in a statement Wednesday night. ″He suffered terrible wounds that never really healed.″

Scruggs said he hadn’t heard that Puller was drinking again, but said he had suffered a painful setback earlier this year when he fell out of bed and hurt his spine. He said Puller required hospitalization.

Don M. Boileau, who taught a class at George Mason with Puller, said he received a handwritten note Wednesday from his colleague.

″It was a very precise note regarding students’ grading,″ said Boileau, chairman of the communications department. ″In retrospect, he was wrapping things up. It was very thoughtful. He obviously put a lot into it.″

Puller returned to Vietnam last August for the first time since the war, and said he was overwhelmed when he met disabled Vietnamese veterans

″Here I am, sitting on an NVA (North Vietnam Army) soldier’s bed with him,″ he said ″You know, our stumps are all tangled up. It was incredible.″

Puller earned the Silver Star, two Purple Hearts, the Navy Commendation Medal and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry.

He served as a director of the Vietnam Memorial Association, an American non-profit group that promotes reconciliation between the United States and Vietnam.

He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in eastern Virginia’s 1st District in 1978.

Puller was a 1963 graduate of Christchurch School in Saluda. After Vietnam, he attended law school at the College of William and Mary, and worked as a Defense Department lawyer before taking a leave of absence to teach.

In a 1992 graduation speech at Christchurch School, Puller told the students he was proof that life offered second, third and even fourth chances.

″By the time I graduated from college, I had flunked out of one school and was on academic and disciplinary probation at another,″ Puller said. ″I was also well on my way to being an out-of-control alcoholic.

″I’m not proud of any of this, and I readily acknowledge that most of my problems, most of my misfortunes, were of my own making.″

Funeral arrangements were incomplete Wednesday night, but Mrs. Puller said her husband would be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, as was his wish.

In addition to his wife, Puller leaves a son, Lewis B. Puller III, 26, who was born weeks after Puller returned from Vietnam, and a daughter Maggie, 23.