During the Vietnam War, the 1st Battalion 9th Marines engaged in a number of battles, including Khe Sanh, which by all means they should have lost. The 9th Marines earned a number of honors as a result of their long heavy engagements in Vietnam. They are said to have suffered the highest casualty rate in Marine history engaging in combat for a total of 47 months and 7 days.
The Armed Forces History Museum in Largo, FL has an area dedicated to the Vietnam War, which includes a diorama of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Keh Sanh Marine Firebase. The most chilling part of the Vietnam diorama is the incredible oral history from an actual survivor of the 1st Battalion 9th Marines unit who participated in the Battle of Khe Sanh. The presentation also features film footage from the battle.
The Battle of Khe Sanh
One of their most noted battles in which they participated took place between January 21 and July 9, 1968 at Khe Sanh. Initially the US officials in Saigon felt the combat operations that were unfolding around the Khe Sanh Combat Base were simply a string of insignificant N. Vietnamese offensives. However, the US revised their theory after they learned the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) was locating some of their major forces in the area around the base. Marine forces were sent as reinforcement and for the next 77 days, the Khe Sanh Combat Base and the outposts just outside it remained under continual ground, artillery, mortar and rocket attacks from the North Vietnamese.
During the Battle of Khe Sanh, the US Air Force launched its own massive aerial bombardment known as Operation Niagara. Advanced technologies were used to locate the PAVN, whose presence challenged the normal tactical means of maintaining military supplies to the ground forces. In March of 1968, Operation Pegasus was launched by Marine-Army and South Vietnamese task forces. This group was eventually able to successfully break through to the Marines at the Khe Sang Base. Though considered a victory for the Americans and the South Vietnamese combat forces, some feel the battle was an effort to distract the American forces from the Viet Cong force buildup in the south – just before the Tet Offensive in January of 1968.
Khe Sanh was not a true victory for either side. Though considered a US victory, the forces still abandoned the base due to enemy pressure. The PAVN was unable to proclaim a true victory either. Their efforts to force the Marines from their fighting positions had failed. Casualty rate among the PAVN was far greater than US forces.
Medals and Citations
Throughout their Vietnam experience, the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines would earn the nickname “Walking Dead”. Military honors bestowed upon this courageous group of Marines included 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. Their actions at Khe Sanh demonstrated their commitment to their unit, their Corps and their country.