Retired Gen. Lewis W. Walt, a former assistant commandant of the Marine Corps and holder of several combat decorations from three wars, has died at the Naval Home in Gulfport, Miss., after a long illness, the service said this week. He was 76.
Walt, a rough-spoken bear of a man who served as assistant commandant of the corps from Jan. 1, 1968, until Feb. 1, 1971, died Sunday, Marine officials said.
From 1965 to 1967 he commanded the 75,000 Marines in the I Corps area of northern South Vietnam. There legends abounded about him as he survived mortar attacks that hit within a few feet of him and a walk across a mined bridge.
Born near Harveyville, Kan., he graduated from Colorado State University where he served in the Reserve Officers Training Corps and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Reserve. He later resigned the commission to become a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps on July 1, 1936, beginning a military career that spanned nearly 35 years.
In World War II he served with the 1st Marine Raider Battalion in the Pacific and by 1944 was commanding the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Marines in the campaign for New Britain, where he was wounded.
By the outbreak of the Korean War he was a colonel and served as a regimental commander in that Asian war zone.
He was promoted to brigadier general in 1962, was made a major general three years later and was given his third star the following year. In January, 1968, after failing to become Marine Corps commandant in a competition with Lt. Gen. Victor H. Krulak and Lt. Gen. Leonard F. Chapman Jr., he received his fourth star and served as assistant commandant.
Until then, the corps had only one four-star officer, the commandant, and Walt’s appointment was seen as a gesture of appreciation even though Chapman had been chosen commandant.
During his career, he was awarded two Navy Crosses, two Distinguished Service Medals, a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.
Walt retired from active duty in February, 1971, and later wrote three books and several other articles.
In one of them, a 1971 article for the New York Times, he wrote of the dichotomies of Vietnam:
“On the one hand it was an extremely sophisticated war with complex weapons unlike even World War II or Korea. On the other hand it was a return to medieval war, pitting man against man on a battleground where only the courageous could win.”