News: 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment Memorial Service Transcript
Chaplain, Navy Lieutenant Charles Ferguson: Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the invocation and remain standing for the presentation of the colors and construction of memorial stands.
Invocations: “Eternal Father, Strong to Save”
Ferguson: We gather today with heavy hearts and many tough questions. We know answers about death are hard to find, so grant us peace and the courage to move forward without seeing our seven brothers every day. We miss their smiles, bright personalities and their sarcastic sense of humor. Today as we remember lives through tradition, music and story, let this service be a place of healing and comfort to all the family and friends gathered here today. Comfort their families with the knowledge that there is a large family surrounding them today and always for whatever support they may need. Continue to provide healing to those injured on that fateful night and while they may not physically be with us today we know they are here with us in spirit. Let us always remember how these men embodied not only the title Marine, but also the name Deadwalker. In your name we pray, Amen.
National anthem plays
Sergeant Major Patrick M. Tracy: Corporal Aaron J. Ripperda, Combined Anti-Armor Team, Weapons Company, 1st Battalion 9th Marine Regiment. Killed in training 18 March 2013 at Hawthorne Army Depot.
Lance Corporal David P. Fenn II, 60MM Mortar Section, Weapons Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion 9th Marine Regiment. Killed in training 18 March 2013 at Hawthorne Army Depot.
Lance Corporal Joshua M. Martino, 60MM Mortar Section, Weapons Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion 9th Marine Regiment. Killed in training 18 March 2013 at Hawthorne Army Depot.
Lance Corporal Roger W. Muchnick, 60MM Mortar Section, Weapons Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion 9th Marine Regiment. Killed in training 18 March 2013 at Hawthorne Army Depot.
Lance Corporal Joshua C. Taylor, 60MM Mortar Section, Weapons Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion 9th Marine Regiment. Killed in training 18 March 2013 at Hawthorne Army Depot.
Lance Corporal Mason J. Vanderwork, 60MM Mortar Section, Weapons Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion 9th Marine Regiment. Killed in training 18 March 2013 at Hawthorne Army Depot.
Lance Corporal William T. Wild IV, 60MM Mortar Section, Weapons Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion 9th Marine Regiment. Killed in training 18 March 2013 at Hawthorne Army Depot.
After the memorial stands are constructed.
Battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew J. McNulty: Parade Rest.
Ferguson: Please be seated.
McNulty: Families of the fallen, Governor McCrory, Gen & Mrs Amos, SgtMaj Barrett, general officers, colonels, fellow commanders, sergeants major, Sheriff Brown, officers representing the Reno Police Department, Vietnam era alumni of the Walking Dead, Marine families, my command team, especially Maj. Tom Siverts, SgtMaj Pat Tracy, my Family Readiness Officer, Mrs. Jeanmarie Hoopii, our family Readiness volunteers, LT Thomas Edwards and his medical team, Lt Jelenik and the S4 Marines, MGySgt Geter, other distinguished guests, Company B, 83d Civil Affairs Battalion, Company F, 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, Marines and Sailors of 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, thank you for attending our memorial service to honor our fallen.
Nothing said here today will replace the loss of our men, your sons, brothers, husbands, boyfriends, and fathers. As we slowly come to grips with their absence in our lives, now is the time to embrace their spirits. As Marines and sailors from the command traveled across America to honor their friends at their funerals, we were reinvigorated by not only the example set by our lost brethren, but by the spirit of the American citizens. Everywhere we turned, citizens joined us in our solemn journey.
We are forever indebted to Reno’s police department standing guard at the hospital and teaming up with the exceptional Renown Medical Center’s staff to ensure the very best support for our wounded. To that end, nearly five weeks later, their duty just ended as HM3 McClanahan and his family were relocated to Bethesda this past Sunday.
Simultaneously the great people of Hawthorne held a memorial service and a fund raising spaghetti dinner for men and families they did not know, men that were mere interlopers in their lives. Before we came home, the 152d Airlift Wing of the Nevada Air National Guard, replete with an unpaid squadron of drilling reservists and the State’s adjutant general stood in formation as we conducted our dignified transfer of remains from Reno to Dover as our fallen angels began their journey home.
When the battalion returned to Camp Lejeune, we attended seven funerals in ten days. Throughout, we continued to encounter the spirit of America and were reminded of the spirit of our men everywhere we turned. In Dubois, PA, thousands of men, women, and children lined the streets with flags in hand as the snow fell when we laid LCpl Martino to rest. LCpl Muchnick’s community provided superior support as he was buried alongside his fallen great uncle who was lost in Vietnam. We buried LCpl Taylor alongside Revolutionary War generals and fallen men from nearly every other war in America’s history in Mound Cemetery, Marietta, Ohio. Even on Camp Lejeune volunteer community service organizations such as the Patriot Guard Riders were present as we spread LCpl Vanderwork’s ashes at both Onslow Beach and in his hometown of Hickory, NC. LCpl Wild’s classic burial by men from Marine Barracks 8th and I at Arlington brought a tear to everyone’s eyes. When we bid farewell to Cpl Ripperda, the flagman and his 2,280 10’ tall flagpoles with flags in Highland, Illinois was present. During LCpl Fenn’s funeral procession, workers from local businesses were on the streets to pay homage. Walking with Fenn were Walking Dead alumni, present to comfort family and friends and pay their respects to our current generation of Marines.
Throughout, the Patriot Guard Riders, VFW, American Legion, police, and fire departments everywhere came out in droves to support our Marines and Sailors and the families of the fallen both emotionally and physically. We learned that America mourned our losses and embraced the spirits of our fallen. As the Marines and Sailors who knew these men best held the hands of the surviving families, we celebrated their lives.
Cpl Ripperda was a known leader, intent on leading and training men until the end of his service. We look to him as the example for consistency in leadership. LCpl Fenn, our resident comedian and future “lifer” loved his daughter unconditionally and is the perfect example of a man who not only enjoyed life, but teaches us to embrace those closest to us. LCpl Martino’s love for both Corps and fiancée reminds us all of how we started, and hope to endure over our careers: passionate for those we love and imbued with a dedicated sense of service to country. Billy, as the Marines loved to call LCpl Wild because he hated the name, through his smile and forthcoming leadership teaches us to keep our spirits up, even in trying times. LCpl Vanderwork inspires us to have passions in life outside of the Corps, realizing that one day we too will leave the service. LCpl Taylor is the model of perfection that we all hope to achieve in life—a perfect man in an imperfect world. LCpl “Rog” Muchnick, or RJ as his family calls him, representing the cynic in all of us, teaches us to not only find humor in our daily lives, but to love our friends and family.
Rog’s letter to his sisters on Thanksgiving during his deployment to Kuwait sums up our feelings best as we remember our brothers:
Even though I’m far away,
do not be sad on this special day.
I know you miss me, and I miss you too.
I feel like a foot that is missing its shoe.
But soon I’ll be home and it will be just like before,
Will and I will drink lots of beers, of that I am sure.
I love all of my family, and all of my friends,
and like all things, this deployment will end.
So enjoy this day, I am with you in spirit,
but don’t tell me how good the food is,
I don’t want to hear it.
As we memorialize their spirits, let us live by the examples they set. Thank you for joining us today as we honor those spirits we strive to embrace.
Company Commander, Captain Steven Berch: Good morning, thank you for joining us today, as we celebrate the life of Cpl Aaron Ripperda. There will be many stories that you hear today from Marines that knew each of these men and the impacts that they made to each of their lives. There isn’t much that I can say that hasn’t been said, or tears to cry that haven’t already been cried, and I know that what happens here today will only be a small piece of the healing process.
What I can offer is a story of a life that touched not only his family and close friends, but also touched a city, state, and nation. I can tell you about a family that raised an amazing man who grew up to be an amazing leader. I can also tell you about a family that lost their son but gained many more. And while we can never fill the void that was created, we will forever share a common bond of how Aaron’s life affected us all.
His leadership and enthusiasm towards everything he did set the example for all Marines to emulate. Cpl Ripperda wasn’t just another Marine he was one of the best NCOs our Corps has to offer. There is no question that this young man made a difference in the world and to those around him. You could see this in the hundreds of people that lined the streets around the funeral home and church in Highlands, Illinois; the children who moved from their class rooms to the streets with American flags; the hundreds more that lined the 30 mile route to the grave site honoring Aaron with one hand over their heart and the other holding an American flag; and the truck drivers that stopped their rigs to step out for 20 minutes to pay their respects, even though they knew that time was money. Only then do you begin to understand the total impact that Cpl Ripperda has made. His life not only touched those who knew him best, but helped people realize the true meaning of freedom and the sacrifices associated with it.
And as I watched little kids to old veterans hold their hand over their heart as a flag draped coffin drove by, I knew that Cpl Ripperda would continue to impact lives the same way he had been doing his whole life.
As a dedicated NCO, there is no doubt he lived by the Marine NCO creed, which simply put, was an oath he accepted to be responsible for the lives of his Marines in combat. The last line of the NCO creed solidified that Cpl Ripperda’s spirit will continue to live among us. It reads: I will never forget that I am responsible to my Commanding Officer for the morale, discipline, and efficiency of my men. Their performance will reflect an image of me.
On March 18th, Cpl Ripperda was doing his job training and leading Marines. While we can’t bring him back, we can only hope to carry on his spirit that has touched us all, do the right thing, help others, lead from the front, and live every day like it was our last.
Family, friends, Marines, let us always remember to live our lives with the same passion, courage, and devotion to duty and let our performance reflect the best of our fallen brother. I would like to leave you with this poem from an anonymous author titled “Am Always With You”:
Am Always With You
When I am gone, release me, let me go.
I have so many things to see and do,
You mustn't tie yourself to me with too many tears,
But be thankful we had so many good years.
I gave you my love, and you can only guess
How much you've given me in happiness.
I thank you for the love that you have shown,
But now it is time I traveled on alone.
So grieve for me a while, if grieve you must
Then let your grief be comforted by trust
That it is only for a while that we must part,
So treasure the memories within your heart.
I won't be far away for life goes on.
And if you need me, call and I will come.
Though you can't see or touch me, I will be near
And if you listen with your heart, you'll hear
All my love around you soft and clear
And then, when you come this way alone,
I'll greet you with a smile and a "Welcome Home".
Tina and Kent, You raised an amazing son, one full of honor, courage, and commitment.
Company Commander, Captain Kelby Breivogel: Families, friends, distinguished guests, Marines & sailors ... Good morning, thank you for joining us this today as we celebrate the lives of our fallen brothers David P Fenn II, Joshua C. Taylor, Mason J. Vanderwork, Joshua M. Martino, Roger W. Muchnick, and William T. Wild IV.
LtCol. McNulty mentioned the reactions of the communities that these men are from; let me reiterate; it was an awe-inspiring sight to see America’s support for our fallen, their families, and 1/9.
I’d like to share with all of you something that was inscribed on a memorial near Range 500 on Hawthorne Army Depot. A memorial built from rocks, knives, scrap metal stakes, and rank insignia. It reads:
“Brother, you may be gone but you will live through us.”
Amidst the tragedy and sadness of losing these fine young men, this is a time for continuing actions and resiliency. The core values of the Marine Corps are Honor, Courage and Commitment. Let these values carry us forward as we remember David, Josh Taylor, Mason, RJ, Josh Martino & Billy. Let the honor pass on to the families and friends of these six distinguished brothers in arms.
To the Marines & sailors, the courage and the commitment will always rest on our shoulders. Courage to persevere. We must lift our heads up, show these families we are proud and better men for having known their Marine. Brotherhood equates to each man saying, “Beside you, and always beside me.” Continue to carry their legacy forward.
Our Commitment must be enduring. Commitment to train hard and shrug off adversity. Commitment to draw from the experiences with these Marines, and prepare ourselves for the next challenge--be it on the battlefield, a classroom, or a fluctuating job market.
Face these challenges with the same composure and dedication that you demonstrated at the scene of incident on 18 March. In a scene worse than you have or will likely face in Afghanistan/Iraq, your actions in that terrible moment were calm and fluid. You rose to meet gruesome hardship head-on and matched the heroic lore of The Walking Dead. NCO’s took charge of the scene. LCpl’s took charge of the Wounded, while Corpsman feverishly worked to assess and treat injuries. And our PFC’s and Privates executed tasks with unflinching obedience to orders. You honored the legacy of these Marines, and I know you will continue carry their legacy with you.
Now, let us share our stories, let us continue to heal.
Corporal Erdman: I have a lot of memories of Aaron even though it’s been only a few short years that I have known him. We traveled throughout the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region on our first deployment. Our second deployment together was to only one country but a bit more memorable. And the countless time spent at my house stateside. I always remember a kind, smiling man. He knew his job and did it well but the most favorable impression was his personality. Always willing to help, to laugh in the face of stress, and always giving sound advice. I can honestly say I have never met a more admirable man whose actions when done by oneself will only make him or her a better person.
People who speak kindly of a person may say that he or she will give you the shirt off his back to help. For Aaron that wasn't an expression, he actually did it. There was a day like many others that had confusion, bad scheduling and even worse working vehicles. Aaron and I had to break the news to higher ups that we didn’t have the equipment to do something. I wasn’t wearing a shirt under my blouse so I did not want to go in the office.
Neither one of us wanted to get yelled at, so the solution was he give me his shirt so I wouldn’t get yelled at for that but I would get yelled at for the vehicles. I think he got off easy for his nice gesture. But that was who he was, helpful. He could go anywhere and strike up a conversation with anybody. Whether it be a foreign country or a local bar he made everybody smile.
His drive and determination did not stop at his socializing. He wanted to sail so he picked up a book. Then in true form he bought a sail boat and learned on the fly. He would have a craving for a certain food and get all the ingredients to cook at my place. Read a review on a new beer and have to try it. A lot of ideas and directions but this all occurred in one week. That is the man I will always remember: intelligent, always smiling, always a true friend. The only way I know that I may possibly honor him is to go forth and learn and live life to the fullest. I know that’s what he would do for me. I can say with certainty that if I act half as good as he lived that I will be a better man. Best of luck, --Nate
Lance Corporal Clukey: I first met David last summer when some Weapons Company guys came to Alpha for the deployment to Kuwait. How I met him was one morning after PT. I came back to my room to see some random guy walking out of my shower, then proceeded to sit in my chair and then he left. I was thinking to myself who the hell is this guy and why was he in my room. Little did I know at the time that David would become one of my best friends.
I got to know David very well in Kuwait by going to the gym and to eat with him and especially when we were standing post. A lot of guys in the platoon would joke with us about be together all the time. It didn’t take long for me to realize that David was a very well-spirited person and had a great sense of humor. You would never catch him without a smile on his face even in the worst of times. He didn’t let things get to his head so you would rarely if ever see him in a bad mood. One day I asked him why he never got angry and he told me that he felt nothing in life was worth being angry over. However, in Kuwait a couple times he almost got angry.
Once was when I blew a water bottle up and he got covered in water and the other was when I kicked the chair out from underneath him on post. If you ever had a problem or issue David was a person you could go to and he would listen to whatever you had to say and would try and help you to the best of his ability to help with your problem or situation you had. He helped me a lot in Kuwait in a few situations. When it came to running, David was probably one of the fastest if not the fastest guy in the company. He ran every day and if you didn’t know he even ran a marathon last summer after we got back from Afghanistan. I was glad to have met a person who loved to run just as much as me.
Before I met David I didn’t think anyone out there was more stingier with his money than me. He was still rocking a blackberry from three years ago. David loved being at his house and just hanging there. A lot of the guys in the platoon dubbed him a “house cat”. He was a very clean and organized person not only in the Marines, but at his house as well. In Kuwait he would show me lists of different things he would write up on his blackberry ranging from his bills and what not.
I felt David’s funniest attribute would have to be his hair. It started out as a comb over in Afghanistan and then proceeded to turn into almost a toupee. I still can’t believe nobody ever called him out on his 5 and a half inches of hair on top of his head.
In Kuwait he would always surprise people and call them things such as leatherdogs, devilnecks, and fellow Belleau Woodsman. Anyone that knew him well knew he was a lifer. He planned on staying and for 20 years and retiring when he was 37. David wanted me to re-enlist with him next year and go do Security Forces with him in Georgia and skate there for the next 4 years with him.
However at the end of the day the most important thing in his life was his daughter Nyka. He loved and cared for her more than anything else in this entire world. It is sad that the time he spent with them and everyone was cut entirely way too short. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him and I will always remember David the rest of my life and the impact that he had on me.
Private First Class Davies: I first came to the fleet on January 25. For those of you that don’t know it can be pretty scary being the new guy in the platoon so us new joins tend to stick together. When I first met Josh I could tell he was a different kind of person by his outgoingness. And not the fake what’s up where are you from outgoing but a genuine interest in befriending you. After a few days in the field and many more back at the barracks it didn’t take long for Josh and I to develop a close friendship.
We shared many similarities such as interests and hobbies but the real reason I held Josh as such a close friend was his unselfishness and overall uplifting personality. For those of you that knew him Josh loved to talk. He could go on for hours if no one stopped him. He loved to talk about his family, his home town and most of all his fiancée Anna. He always had such nice things to say I didn’t mind listening for an hour or two. In fact it made me happy to hear about all the love in his life.
When we were at Bridgeport our friendship only grew. We established that I was going to go ho home with him for Easter and meet everyone he so graciously talked about. He asked me to be the best man at his wedding and I was honored to be a part of such a big part of his life. It felt great knowing I had a friend like him, a friend that would put aside their wants and needs to help you. I’m reminded of a night on the mountain when I went to BAS. While I was gone the company had dug their T-trenches for the night and bedded down. When I returned I found Josh and another friend digging my T-trench in my aspens.
This is just one of many actions that show what kind of person Josh Martino was. And for anyone who knew him well I’m sure 100 memories of what a great guy he was just popped into your head. I often think about the last conversation I had with Josh just a few hours before the incident. We talked about our plans for what we were going to do back in his home town. All the people I had to meet, and places I had to see. Most important on the list was sheets. I know that Josh is happy that I did get to meet the people he loved and go to the places he enjoyed despite the circumstance. Something that I strongly believe is that is that Josh would want us to celebrate his life and not drive ourselves mad with grief.
For every thing there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted. A time to kill and a time to breakdown, and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to mourn and a time to dance.
Lance Corporal Coles: I know many of you did not have the pleasure of knowing Roger Wolfe Muchnick personally but hopefully after this, you will all have an appreciation of what a unique and amazing person Rog really was.
The first time I met Roger Muchnick was in SOI. As anyone who knew him is fully aware of, his personality was infectious. He was always laughing, joking around, and constantly providing entertainment for those around him. Anyone who spent time with Rog will tell you, he's not a person you would easily forget, and he was definitely a person that it would be impossible to miss. No matter how bad any situation, no matter how upset anyone was, you could count on Rog to lighten the mood.
He was always the center of attention, because he was such an entertaining individual that the spotlight was naturally drawn to him. Never one to shy away from filling you in about his glory days on the lacrosse fields, or informing you about his numerous hard partying stories from before the Marine Corps. That was Rog. If he was better then you at something trust me you would know it, from playing pool, to racquetball, or even shooting. Everything was a competition to him, and he hated losing.
He was also a great friend. The first to offer help, advice, and even criticism whether it was wanted or not. He was a man of pride, he refused to show any weakness, refused to fail, and refused to give up on his dream of being the biggest guy in the company, even though he was told countless times that he had the body of a swimmer. Roger loved himself, not once in the 3 years of knowing him did I ever see him walk by a mirror without first stopping to appreciate his own reflection. He's the only guy I know who made appointments once a month to get his back waxed.
Roger lived life to the fullest, and tried to enjoy every moment he had. He saw the good in people, and the positive in life. He loved his family, and his brothers in arms. He was a good Marine, a great friend, a wonderful brother, a caring son, and an all-around amazing human being. I loved him like my own flesh and blood. He may have been taken from us too soon, and the pain and sadness still remains, but the mark he left on life, and on us all will never be forgotten. He will never truly die, because he will be remembered by those who loved him and cared about him forever. He lives on through all of us here today, through our thoughts our prayers and our actions.
Lance Corporal Laylon: Josh Taylor was one of the greatest guys I’ve had the privilege of meeting. He always wanting to help people and better himself. His dedication to his religion really stuck out to all of us. No matter how pushed for time he was he always made room for his religion. He used to come into my room every Sunday and wake me up, bright and early. At first I didn’t catch on but after weeks of this I knew he was trying to get me to come to church with him. After a few weeks I gave in and decided to go to church with him. When we arrived at his church everyone there started greeting him and welcoming him back because we were at Kuwait.
I’m pretty sure everyone in the church knew Josh by first name basis. Even when we were out in the field, Josh would always be reading his Bible. I would watch him go up to Chaps regularly and ask him when the next service was and what they would be doing. No matter what Josh was doing he always made room. Whenever people would come up to us and tell us there was a church service at so and so time Josh would immediately stop what he was doing and listen in. He wanted to be the first one to hear when and the first to be there.
For all of you who knew Josh you also know that he had a passion for guns. Josh owned a Kimber 1911 which he loved. Almost every weekend he would go down to the shooting range and shoot. He loved shooting and he was pretty good at it. He could also tell you the history of any weapon. Where it came from, what type of ammo it shot, etc. He wanted to know everything about everything. His favorite weapon was the AK47. He would go on and on about it. What countries use it, why it’s the best…at times I would get lost in space trying to take in all the knowledge he was giving me on the guns.
Before anything his fiancée Abbey and his family came first. There’s not a day that went by that Josh wasn’t talking about Abbey or his family. I learned so much about him and his family. He would tell me about going home and playing board games with his family, or going to his friend Billy’s house shooting automatic weapons. He had these videos on his phone of him and Abbey shooting all sorts of weapons. He would ask me at least once a week to watch these videos on his phone. I must have seen them at least a dozen times.
Josh also had a passion for weight lifting. Not only weight lifting but Crossfit with Skaggs as well. He wanted to be as physically fit as he could. I remember in Kuwait he finally reached the “300 club” in bench press. He was so happy he was showing everyone. He’s wanted to reach that goal since high school. Josh could also hang clean more than anyone I know. I’ve never seen someone want to hang clean let alone hang clean as much as Josh would. I would have to get my own bar because it would take me a while to take all the weight off of his. Josh also loved to swim. I know he use to swim in high school and he missed it a lot. Josh has inspired all of us to be greater men. He was so loving and caring and wanted to make everyone happy. Josh is in a place we call heaven, the place he cared most about. He is watching over us and will always be here with us.
Lance Corporal Bedolli: Today we have gathered one final time together to mourn the loss of the 7 men who passed at Hawthorne the night of march 18th, and I have been given the privilege of speaking for LCpl Mason "Sid" Vanderwork.
A man who lived a simple life, his quiet laid-back personality was a testament of the man he was: humble, caring, but also one who looked out for others and would help anyway he could.
He cherished the things he had, notably his Mustang which he spoke of religiously, whether it be all the upgrades he wanted to do to it, or how much he thought it was the best preforming car on base. He loved his wife, Taylor, whom he loved and cared for more than anything, using any minute he could find during the day to talk to her, and complained any minute he couldn’t.
Mason was easy to hold conversation with even if his first days in Alpha company he was very quiet and preferred to keep to his own, notably upset about his move from 81's to 60's. Eventually he began to come around, and was a valuable asset to our platoon.
Mason, along with the 6 others lost a month ago, were great Marines, better friends, and above else, unforgettable men. While we still mourn the losses, we also need to remember the lives they and feel honored that we were privileged to know them.
Lance Corporal Herring: William Taylor Wild was born Dec. 17th 1991 in Severna Park Md. where he grew up with a love for baseball, and a love for his friends and family. He joined the Marine Corps shortly after his graduation from high school where he was assigned to 1st Battalion 9th Marines Weapons Company as a mortarman. He excelled quickly. From day one in the fleet he was constantly bettering himself. Whether it was physically or mentally. He proved himself time after time under stress. Whether it was in combat or in the classroom. Wild was without doubt a man with goals in which he planned to obtain.
When he first hit the fleet in early May of 2010, he seemed very timid and nervous, as is expected of new marines during their first few months around seniors. But that didn’t last long at all. After a couple weeks, Wild was in full swing. He had a very sarcastic sense of humor, smug attitude, and a knack for quick learning, which led everybody to loving him. Whenever things got rough, he could always crack a joke, and flash his big goofy smile to brighten everybody up. He knew when to be serious and when to joke around. He was always testing people to see how far he could get with them, but never far enough to cause any trouble.
Once our deployment in Afghanistan ended and we returned back to Lejeune, Wild’s ambition to lead did not end. He knew that most of our seniors would be getting out soon, and that somebody was going to have to take over. Soon after our return, he was selected to go to Mortar Leaders Course. He stated that he didn’t enjoy the long hours, but loved all of the information that he was learning. While there, he met mortarmen from throughout the battalion, including one of which was to become one of his best friends, Roger Muchnick.
Soon after his graduation from Mortar Leaders, volunteers were called to go on another deployment, this time to Kuwait. Wild jumped at the opportunity. A few weeks later, all of the volunteers were sent over to Alpha Co. Wild and Muchnick had officially been thrown together. The two of them combined, turned Alpha Company’s Weapons Platoon into what it was, Bully Platoon, the Goon Squad ... and that implied the best. They both carried themselves very highly, working out constantly, playing Frisbee in the quad, cracking jokes at other Platoons bringing everybody together with their leadership. They would both take the fall to insure that a marine under them wouldn’t have to hear about something. They were always there.
Whenever we deployed to Kuwait, Wild was given the name Billy, which he very openly hated. That only caused it to stick. Billy’s leadership abilities really began to really show during Kuwait. He was assigned a team leaders billet, and was in charge of leading QRF patrols. He was never really afraid of how people viewed him as a person, but was afraid of letting people down. He took his leadership roles very seriously, but was able to separate his friends from his work, and get things done without ever raising his voice or making any of the Marines under him feel as though they were being singled out.
A few weeks after our return from Kuwait, we were sent off to the mountains of Bridgeport to conduct mountain training as part of a workup package for our upcoming deployment. While there, despite the horrid weather conditions, lack of motivation, and continuous training, Billy still maintained his composure. When we weren’t training, he could be found with his two new Marines teaching them knowledge, or how to lead through example. He always had a notebook in his pocket that he used to write down information that he deemed necessary to retain, or for a quick reference to answer a question that someone might ask. He was always on top of it.
Whenever he saw that one of his buddies was truly upset he would take them aside and have a heart to heart with them to insure that they were going to be alright. Whenever Marines would go down due to weather conditions, he would be one of the first responders to insure that, that person was going to be alright, and make it through the night. He was without doubt a born leader.
10 p.m. March 18th, 2013 marked the end of Billy’s physical life, but not the end of all of the memories and lessons he has shared. He made an impact whether big or small on almost everyone present today. Even though he is now gone, there are traces of his life everywhere. Whenever you see an Orioles hat, or a Harry Potter book, or even a can of Nati Bo, that's Billy. A quote that Billy planned on getting tattooed whenever we returned from Bridgeport was “Never Alone, Never Forgotten”. I don’t think a truer quote exists. In his life, he was never alone, and now that he is gone, he will never be forgotten.
Ferguson: Five weeks ago, our lives changed forever. Nothing can change that. Nothing can erase that day. It was a night of chaos and carnage that gave way to a day of beauty and courage. I don’t want to forget that night, I couldn’t even if I wanted to. We owe it to Ripp, Josh, Joshua, Billy, Rog, Mason and David to remember that night. But, we owe it to them to remember not just the tragic but also the good and heroic. And what better way to honor the events of March 18th and the men of Hawthorne than to reflect on what it means to be a Deadwalker.
Most normal people would recoil at the prospect of joining an organization nicknamed the Walking Dead. That or they would think it’s just a fan club of the TV show where they could hunt zombies. Like many of you, when I received word I was coming to 1/9 I went to the two sources of all information, Google and Wikipedia, to learn the history of my new unit. After reading the history of the unit and discovering the unit called themselves the Walking Dead, I found the name a bit morbid and chalked it and the Grim Reaper logo up to the infantry obsession with skulls. And two years ago, like many outside our unit, I would have thought it odd to call someone a good Deadwalker. But, after March 18th we know there is honor and deep meaning in wearing the title of Deadwalker.
So what does it mean to lay claim to the name Deadwalker? What sets us apart from other people? Other units? For the guests who aren’t familiar with the unit’s history, our name came from the time those who walked before us spent in Vietnam. After a particularly difficult and brutal battle we had suffered the worst day for the Corps in Vietnam both in sheer numbers and in percentage of casualties. One Viet Cong General reportedly stated that we were never going to win and were essentially walking towards our death and burial and called us the Walking Dead. That nickname was even broadcast over Vietnamese propaganda radio by the infamous Hanoi Hanna encouraging us to go ahead and die. We embraced that name, but not in the way they expected. They had no clue what made up a member of the Walking Dead. Even death itself cannot defeat a Deadwalker.
Today we remember seven men who embodied everything it means to be a part of the Walking Dead. As you have heard from many others today, these seven Marines weren’t just great Marines, they were outstanding young men who had much to offer the world. They had already made a positive difference here in the unit as well as their communities back home. These men looked death in the face on the night of March 18th and just grinned because they knew death wasn’t getting the final say in their lives.
Death will always lose when it is up against infantry Marines that are willing to argue with each other that they are the best potential date for Taylor Swift. Death doesn’t stand a chance against the sarcasm of these Marines. Death’s darkness can’t overcome the illuminating smiles and powerful sense of humor of these men. Death can’t bully men who refuse to succumb to peer pressure. Death can’t recover from men who will do anything to save their brothers and put others above their own safety in a time of need. Death’s grip isn’t strong enough to compete against the beauty of a simple memorial of rocks and chevrons created by brothers in arms. The fear of death will always be overwhelmed by lives that inspire thousands of people in communities around this country to come out and pay respects to their fallen sons.
Men such as these change lives for good and are the shoulders that the Corps stands upon. We take men such as these for granted because we expect great things from them. Men like Ripp, Joshua, Rog, Billy, Josh, David and Mason defeat death because they show us how to live. Their bodies are buried, but their lives will continue on and their impact will multiply as we live lives that honor the way in which they changed our lives for good.
We call this battalion the Walking Dead and the men Deadwalkers not because they are walking around awaiting death or because of a morbid sense of humor. No, we call ourselves Deadwalkers because we walk through death with no fear. We show death it is nothing in the face of such men. Time and again, death has tried to defeat this battalion. Time and again, death has lost because we live lives inspired by men such as Josh, Billy, Mason, Joshua, Ripp, David and Rog. Lives that inspire others to live well. Lives that death can’t extinguish. So the next time the Battalion Commander ends a formation with his familiar call and response, don’t look at it as cheesy false motivation. Answer his call with pride that you are part of this storied unit and that you are willing to honor the lives of these seven and all those before you who proudly bear the name Deadwalker.
"Amazing Grace" plays
Ferguson: Please rise for the honoring of the dead.
Honoring the dead
McNulty: Battalion, Attention.
McNulty: Present Arms.
McNulty: Honor the Dead.
McNulty: Order Arms.
Ferguson: This concludes our Memorial service. We thank you for attending. Please wait until the official party and the Marines and Sailors of Alpha and Weapons Companies, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines have paid their respects before coming forward.