James Mattis, the retired four-star general who resigned as defense secretary on Thursday, has long been viewed as a legendary figure in the U.S. military. One particular story, told in 2003 at an ethics lecture organized by the Center for the Study of Professional Military Ethics, perfectly explains why former staffers saw Mattis as a "cult figure."
In 1998, a now retired General Charles C. Krulak had been preparing for an annual tradition where he delivered hundreds of Christmas cookies to post guards. On Christmas day at around 4 a.m., Krulak headed to Virginia, to the command center at Quantico. Once there, he asked the lance corporal who the officer on duty was.
"Sir, it's Brigadier General Mattis," the lance corporal answered, as Albert C. Pierce, a director at the ethics center, explained at the lecture.
"No, no, no. I know who General Mattis is. I mean, who's the officer of the day today, Christmas day?" Krulak asked with persistence.
General Mattis, the soldier repeated.