Veterans of 1/9 reunite at MCRD Parris Island
By Lance Cpl. Justin J. Shemanski
| | May 13, 2005
MCRD/ERR PARRIS ISLAND, SC --
More than 30 years ago, Marines of the “Walking Dead” were thrust into the jungles of uncertainty in Vietnam. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, thousands of these men were able to make it home. On May 13, dozens of them gathered aboard the Depot to relive where it all began.As part of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines Network, Inc., members of “The Walking Dead” reunited in the Beaufort area and toured MCRD Parris Island for a chance to see how today’s warriors are training for combat, an experience all to vivid in their own memories.As the nickname may indicate, their unit suffered one of the highest casualty rates in Marine Corps history. To keep this brotherhood alive and to remember those who never made it back from Vietnam, the network organizes reunions each year, with Parris Island being one of the most poplar destinations for them.“We have one of the better post-military veterans organizations in the country … the tight brotherhood of the First Battalion, Ninth Marines, ‘The Walking Dead,’ is incredible,” said Bill Hesse, who spent four-and-a-half months in combat with the unit in Vietnam. According to Hesse, the network holds a national reunion every other year, but they often end up meeting up with each other quite a bit more.“Since the guys want to see each other so much, we decided that in the off years, we would have mini, local reunions,” said Hesse, who spent four years in the Marine Corps and left as a sergeant. “This is our fourth time back to Parris Island in eight years.”Hesse said the Depot is so popular because new members come to the reunions each year and a lot of them have not been back to the island since they graduated from recruit training more than three decades ago.“This has all just blown me away,” said Rodger Jacobs, who is also saw combat with 1st Bn., 9th Marines in Vietnam. “I’m back here on the yellow footprints where it all started. There [are] layers of sophistication here now that we didn’t experience when we went through.”One of the biggest changes Jacobs saw was the swim qualification, noting that it was pretty rudimentary when he went through it.“You just had to tread water for twenty minutes or a half-hour, ‘drown proofing,’ but now you have the four different categories of achievement,” he said.Hesse said it was the implementation of the Crucible that has kept the modern day Marines Corps ahead of the crowd as far as training goes, and will give new Marines a slight taste of what they might experience in a combat; an experience that “the Walking Dead” know all too well.“Most of our guys have multiple Purple Hearts,” said Hesse, as we explained how the nickname might have originated, “but [there are about] nine million stories on how it came to be. All I know is that everybody knows about us.”When Hesse got to Vietnam in 1967, he was sitting in a hangar in Da Nang when he first learned of his future unit for the first time and no one wanted to be apart of it.“They would read off your name and who you were going to be assigned to and there were guys all over saying ‘Pray you don’t get put in [1st Bn., 9th Marines]. They issue you a body bag when you get there,” said Hesse. “That’s who I ended up with and I didn’t think I was going to go home, but sure enough, four-and-a-half-months later, I was home.”Jacobs said the average life expectancy of a Marine assigned to 1st Bn., 9th Marines in Vietnam was just one month.“My platoon, at one time, was down to three guys,” said Jacobs. “We had two lance corporals fighting over who was going to be the platoon commander.”With those unforgettable memories and experiences under their belts, the veterans are proud to see the young men and women of today committing themselves to the defense of this country and believe they are more than capable of living up to the legacies left by units such as their own.“We were just normal high school kids just like they are when we went to combat and because of our Marine Corps training, we were able to rise above anything,” said Hesse.“When we marched, the earth trembled,” concluded Jacobs.