The Walking Dead-Modern Day Spartans
By Rick Mowles
Ancient Greece was made up of different cities or states. One of these states, Sparta, stood out amongst the others for its emphasis on discipline, self-denial and simplicity. They looked highly upon the virtues of moral values, human strength, and courage.
In 480 BC, the empire of Persia was pushing towards Greece. The Greek state council met and decided that the Persians must be stopped. They elected the state of Sparta to be the defenders of Greece. Three hundred Spartan soldiers marched to the pass at Thermoplyae to stop the march of the gargantuan Persian army commanded by King Xerxes. The Persian army outnumbered the Spartans 100 to 1. The Spartans had picked this particular strategic area due to the topography.
The pass was very narrow, and even though they were outnumbered, the pass prevented any large number of Persian soldiers to pass at one time. The Spartans fought courageously for three days killing many of the Persian soldiers. After three days, a traitor to the Spartans informed King Xerxes of a narrow pass in the mountains that bypassed the pass at Thermoplyae. The Persian army was able to divide its forces and surround the Spartans. The Spartans refused to surrender to King Xerxes even though their fate was doomed. They stayed and fought to the very last man against the many Persian soldiers. All the Spartans died at the end but they had inflicted such a heavy number of casualties on the Persian army that King Xerxes withdrew his army and the State of Greece was saved.
In the annals of military history there are similar accounts of military units that have fought with unwavering valor, stamina and fortitude against insurmountable odds. In World War II, such units etched their way into history, such as Merrill’s Marauders, Darby’s Rangers and the Devil’s Brigade. In Korea, there was the “Frozen Chosin” of the 1st. Marine division.
In Vietnam, a name emerged in the late 60s of a Marine unit nicknamed “The Walking Dead.” This name was associated with the 1st. Battalion 9th.Marines of the 3rd. Marine Division. The 9th Marine Regiment arrived in Vietnam in 1966. This unit had already established itself with the campaigns of World War II in the south Pacific. The unit was involved fighting the Japanese in the Northern Solomon’s, Guam, Bougainville, and Iwo Jima.
The nickname of “Walking Dead” was associated specifically with the 1st Battalion 9th Marines. In investigating material for this article, it was found that there is some controversy about how this particular unit came up with this name. Rather than write on speculation, let it be said that there are several versions of how the term “Walking Dead” became associated with this unit.
However, it does seem that between the years of 1966 and 1967, the term “Walking Dead” became associated with the 1st. Battalion 9th Marines. It also is apparent that during this period of time the classic image of the grim reaper, was seen on the Battalion flag.
The “Walking Dead” earned many unit honors based on information obtained from the 1/9 Network. Though often outnumbered, the unit was in constant heavy engagement with the enemy. This would involve some of the most savage and prolonged fighting of the Vietnam War. During service in the Vietnam War, the 1st Battalion 9th Marines were engaged in combat for 47 months and 7 days from June 15, 1965, to October 19, 1966 and December 11, 1966 to July 14, 1969. The Marines and corpsmen of the “Walking dead” also suffered the highest casualty rate in the corps’s history while participating in several Vietnam campaigns, from Da Nang to Khe Sanh and the Ashau Valley. The Battalion’s heavy casualties during its Vietnam service included: 749 Killed in Action (KIA) and 2 were Missing In Action (MIA).
Numerous military honors were bestowed upon the unit including the Presidential and Naval unit citations, the Vietnam Service Medal with two silver stars, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm Streamer, and the Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation Civil Action Medal.
In August 1969, the Ninth Marine Regiment left Vietnam and was stationed at Camp Schwab, Okinawa. The unit was deactivated on September 9, 1994, with military honors at Camp Pendleton, California. The unit remained inactive from 1994 through 2004. In October 2005, the unit was reactivated as part of the 2nd. Marine division, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. In April 2006, alpha company 1st. Battalion 9th Marines was deployed to Forward Operating Base grizzly in Camp Ashraf, Iraq. Alpha company returned in October 2006 without the loss of any Marines. In late March 2008, the 1st. Battalion 9th Marines once again activated and was deployed to Ramadi, Iraq.
Just as the 300 Spartans stood and fought courageously against far superior numbers at Thermoplyae in ancient Greece, the “Walking Dead” has established itself as a legendary group of elite warriors fighting and dying in the most horrendous conditions. We all must never forget the 747 of this elite unit that gave the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country. This unit has etched itself into military history by its courageousness, aggressiveness and persistence. We must never forget what the 1st Battalion 9th Marines accomplished in its history.
Colonel David H. Berger, assistant division commander for the 2nd. Marine division and commanding officer, 8th Marine Regiment said it accurately, “No other unit can claim more history or more heroic leaders than one-nine.”