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Walking in 1/9 (Walking Dead or Walking Death?)

Walking in 1/9 (Walking Dead or Walking Death?)

First and foremost, Semper Fi to all Marines and specifically for this article to my 1/9 Brothers.

The Marines of 1/9 have a very long history, decorated for extensive combat in World War II and in Vietnam which earned them the nickname the "Walking Dead." Formed during World War I, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment has also seen action in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has been based around the world to include 1st Marine Division Camp Pendleton, Okinawa Japan and recently deactivated out of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Mostly you will hear the term “Walking Dead” when 1/9 is mentioned, but the fact remains that 1/9 also has a reputation for heroism that included Medal of Honor recipients at Guam and Iwo Jima during World War II and two in Vietnam.

Marine Corps historians and Marines who have served in 1/9 have a few versions of why 1/9 is referred to as the Walking Dead and depending on when you were in, you may have heard slight variations, I can’t say, what is the absolute fact, however, the most sense would be to have gotten the nickname because of its high rate of casualties during the Vietnam War. That’s what I was told when I was in.

Earlier this year, Lt Col. Corey Collier was present at the 1/9 deactivation ceremony in Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and explained how the 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment became known as "The Walking Dead." "Ho Cho Minh said that he was going to wipe the battalion out. He said, 'We are going to wipe them out. They're already dead man walking.' The battalion said, 'Come and get us. We'll take that name,'" recalled Lt Col. Collier.  This seems to be as close to the truth as possible.

I enlisted to the Corps on my 17th birthday with consent of my mother. Four months later I was on the yellow footprints in San Diego and by the grace of God was able to claim the title United States Marine on Dec 30th 1982.

Coming from an automobile town in the Midwest with nothing but unemployment and shattered dreams of union folks who for generations relied on that industry to raise their families, I had to make life changing decisions at an early age. I decided to drop out of High School and become a Marine. I knew it was make it or die. My mother specifically had a stipulation for her signing that the Marines would ensure that I went to High School and obtain my High School Diploma, not a GED. This was something that I would regret for many months later. My Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) scores were high enough for me to select becoming an Avionics Tech and believed I was going to Tennessee for Avionics School after Boot Camp in sunny California. For some reason growing up in the Midwest and Snow, California seemed to be the place to go, heck I might meet a California Girl. However, upon my arrival to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) station in Detroit, (I think it was called AAFES back then), I was told the Avionics School was overbooked for the time I would arrive after graduation from Boot Camp and I would need to return in February the following year to go to Boot Camp. I was not having any of that, I wanted to be a Marine and that was that. It consumed me and was all I could think of. I had left my hometown, dropped out of school, said goodbye to all of my friends and family and returning back did not seem to me to an option.

The Gunny at the MEPS Station very calmly stated that I could still become a Marine if I signed a document to go in Open Contract, (Meaning the Corps would place you wherever they needed you). Hmm, he said things like, Communications, Supply, Cook, Armory, Tanks, Motor T or even Infantry.  I knew then most likely infantry, “That’s ok with me, I want to be Marine!” I said.  He said, “Don’t worry, when you get to your unit after training, go to your C.O. and request a Lateral Move into the field you prefer.”  Oh… Ok…  So off to Boot Camp I flew to San Diego, graduated and then to 03 Land, Infantry Training School (ITS), now called School of Infantry (SOI) in San Onofre, Camp Pendleton, CA. I became a 0341 and was sent to 1st Battalion 9th Marines at Camp Horno. Spent my time on 2 West Pacs, 4 Ships, visited the world and experienced numerous training exercises with other countries militaries on various courses. Jungle and cold weather is all we trained for back then. There was no desert threat at this time because we were in a Cold War with Russia and either it or possibly China would be our next war. During my service to 1/9, we unfortunately lost 241 in the Beirut Barracks bombing of which, those 220 Marines, 18 Sailors and 3 Soldiers should never be forgotten, but seem to be rarely mentioned with all of the fighting we have endured since 911. The ironic thing was those Marines at those barracks were from 1st Battalion 8th Marines. Had I decided to go to Boot Camp at Parris Island, I may have been one of those. It was our first real experience of Terrorism, a group calling itself Islamic Jihad which claimed responsibility for the bombings. It was not a great feeling to know that your fellow Marines were attacked and not to be able to hold a Country, Army or Navy accountable. To this day we are still dealing with this sort of mentality. Thank God for the young men and women who volunteer and sacrificially protect our way of life and provide their selfless service.

During my time in Corps, it was really difficult to adapt, as my maturity level was lacking and quite a few thrashings were in order for me. I felt out of place often and wondered will I make it through this. It took me until my last half of service to grow up and really enjoy the Corps. After a few Office Hours and quite a few more beatings I saw the light and got on the right track, received a meritorious promotion and was able to be a Division Fire Direction Control Instructor in my Last year. I remember back when I was just a boot, I arrived at my unit and requested to see my C.O. I stood at attention and requested for a lateral move into the avionics field. My C. O. basically told me to “Get the f*** out of my office!” Strike 1. Then he finds out that he is obligated to ensure I go to High School, Strike 2. So every day we are on base, or in the field or on an island or on a ship stateside, I am flown, drove or what have you to mainside and attend a High School continuation class from 1800 to 2200, for three to four months. Basically my punishment for not having my High School diploma and joining the Corps was to stand Fire Watch every night from 0000 – 0400, (the old 12 to 4), safe to say, I was a bit sleep deprived for those 3 to 4 months. Thanks Mom!  But really Thanks Mom! Needless to say, I was marked from the beginning as trouble and dealt with it for quite some time. Being a Marine changed my life in so many ways and provided the traits I would use throughout my career and jobs leading up to it. Traits like Decisiveness, Initiative, Dependability, Loyalty and Endurance have always enabled me to be a leader, leading by example. This would not have been possible without the Marines. Thank you to my Drill Instructors, and fellow Marines thorough my service and God Bless Chesty Puller.. Ooh Rah!

Now we get to the meat of this article. At times my 1/9 brothers may have had and still have some disagreement as to what 1/ 9 is nicknamed. Most will say “The Walking Dead”, some will say, “Walking Death”, I am here to validate the small number of 1/9 Marines who say “Walking Death”. A memo by Marine Corps historian Annette Amerman says the nickname was changed for at least a while starting in 1984 to "Walking Death" and the insignia became a dragon because some members thought the older nickname was derogatory. However, when the battalion was reactivated in 2007, "Walking Dead" was once again embraced and the battalion's official Marine Corps website currently bears the grim reaper design. This statement is factual and will provide some background.

Because I served in 1/9 from 1983 to 1986, I had the privilege of serving under a hard charging Battalion Commander (BC), I believe it was Lt. Col Henninger, (sp?) He was about 6 foot 6 and humped fast and hard. Me being a mortar man, I was always in the front leading the rest of the Battalion, leading the pace. My buddy and I carried the 81mm bipods and were right in the front, next to the BC, one on the Port and one on the Starboard. He was a great leader. I remember hearing that the BC did not like us being called the Walking Dead, but rather we were to be considered Walking Death and it started to catch on. There was a young Lance Corporal, I believe in Alpha Company if my other Marine buddy to date who served in Alpha at the same time is correct. This Lance Corporal drew up a new insignia or logo that the BC loved so much he made it official. It resides on Certificates of Appreciation which upon my departure from 1/9, I received, (See Picture).  This validates exactly what the Historian reference in the last paragraph.

I have included pictures that you can reference:

1.       The Walking Dead Logo coin: (the original)

This is the back side of my challenge coin that is on website.

2.       Certificate: (official document and logo)

Take a Look at the Logo on the Certificate, the Top Star Arm has a Guadalcanal 1st Mar Div set of 5 Stars with a Striking 9th Marines Logo with the Lightning Bolt. 5 Stars = the Southern Cross, above the battle in Guadalcanal. The Feet of the Dragon are holding which looks like 3 rings, however, you will notice the Center ring is not a ring, it is the Symbol of the 1st Marine Division Camp Pendleton Logo.

Also, in the upheld hand of the Dragon are playing Cards, I have seen them with Aces represented.

Yes I blotted out my Service Number/SSN.

3.       1st Mar Div:

5 Stars = the Southern Cross, above the battle in Guadalcanal.

4.       Camp Pendleton Logo:

This is what is drawn on the 1/9 Insignia as the middle object between the rings the dragon is clenching in its feet.

5.       Walking Death Patch: (Close to original but not exact)

I see this out on the web, it is close.

6.       Walking What Patch with Death Logo 1:

Interesting, I see this on the Web as well, it’s a hodgepodge.

7.       Walking What Patch with Death Logo 2:

Another one close but not right.

In conclusion, whether you be a Walking Dead Marine or a Walking Death Marine, you are still and always will be first and foremost a Marine and a member of the 1/9 brotherhood.

Semper Fi Marines! Take charge and carry out the plan of the day.


Cpl. Smith, MJ – USMC       1982-1988

We are not a country quick to go to war, we are a people of peace who time and time again have tried to help the impoverished of this world with food, finances, and when necessary, blood….    What a shame our fellow countrymen will not choose to support our country like True Americans were born to do!    It is the selfish American who will not afford other countries the same freedoms we maintain here in the US. To oppose and subdue the tyrant is another step towards its peoples’ freedom! – ΥΣΜΧ

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