MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- The glow of the sun radiated off the shoulders of anxious Marines and corpsmen as they shared the anticipation of the other onlookers. Droves of veterans laced the packed crowd, waiting to bear witness to a historic awakening.
The reactivation ceremony of 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, more reputably known as the “Walking Dead” of Vietnam fame, was held at 10th Marines landing zone April 18. This reawakening opened the door for a new generation to assume the legacy of the unit.
“No other unit can claim more history or more heroic leaders than one-nine,” said Col. David H. Berger, assistant division commander for 2nd Marine Division and commanding officer, 8th Marine Regiment.
The event brought out a slew of distinguished 1st Battalion, 9th Marine veterans, including Navy Cross recipient retired Gunnery Sgt. Lee R. Burns and Medal of Honor recipient retired Col. Wesley Fox.
“I know you’ll be impressed,” said Berger, addressing the veterans in attendance. “The legacy you’re handing to these Marines is truly in good hands.”
The legend of 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, has forever forged a place in the annals of Marine Corps history. The unit is recognized for fighting valiantly during World War II campaigns in Guam, Bougainville, Northern Solomons and Iwo Jima.
The “Walking Dead” earned their nickname and reputation for their actions during Vietnam. The unit was engaged in combat operations for 47 months and seven days, from June 15, 1965 to July 14, 1969. This is the longest period of sustained combat of any unit in Marine Corps history. The Marines and corpsmen of the “Walking Dead” also suffered the highest casualty rate in the Corps’ history while participating in several Vietnam campaigns, from Da Nang to Khe Sanh, during their tour of duty.
Their brotherhood was solidified during these trying times. The approximately
50 veterans proved this bond was as strong as ever by attending the notable ceremony.
“The camaraderie is unbelievable,” said Don Horseman, who served with Company C, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, from 1966-1967. “We’ve come from all over the country, even as far as Hawaii.”
As the unit’s colors were unfurled, a sense of pride filled the air. The “Walking Dead” veterans gazed at the symbol that to this day stands for something most will never understand.
“In all my years in the Marines, I’ve never run into a more active and engaged alumni,” said Lt. Col. Bradley C. Vickers, commanding officer, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, as he addressed the veterans. “Welcome home.”
As the newly formed battalion conducted a pass in review, the veterans eagerly cheered on the Marines, as if to pass on the torch to the newest generation. The “Walking Dead” of new and old will now share much more than just a nickname.
“They’re more than just Marines now,” said William S. Hesse, national president of the First Battalion Ninth Marines Network, Inc. “They’re our brothers and part of the 1/9 family.”
Dave and Michael Zeller share other ties than just being members of the unit’s family. Dave Zellar, a member of Headquarters & Support Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, from 1968-1969, had the honor of witnessing his son, Lance Cpl. Michael Zeller, confidently march by, carrying on the proud tradition.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Zeller said, obviously at a loss of words regarding his son’s accomplishment. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long, long time.”
As the ceremony came to an end, friends and families gathered to congratulate the next heroes of the “Walking Dead.” Veterans milled through the crowd to reminisce with old friends, some seeing each other for the first time in 40 years.
While it was the newest generation of Marines and corpsmen being activated, the ceremony seemed to be an awakening for many veterans in attendance, once again bringing the legend to life.
“We are very aware of the legacy you’ve left us,” Vickers said. “It’s officially time to let the ‘Walking Dead’ walk again.”