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Book Review - The 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam: Unparalleled and Unequaled, by Maj. Gen. Ira A. Hunt Jr. (Ret.)

By David T. Zabecki 
Originally published by Vietnam magazine. Published Online: September 15, 2010 
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Praising 'Unparalled' Pioneers of Tactical Innovation

Lieutenant General Julian Ewell, who died in August 2009, is one of the most controversial of the senior American commanders of the Vietnam War. A genuine hero of World War II who commanded 101st Airborne Division battalions during the D-Day and Market-Garden drops, and earned a Distinguished Service Cross at the Battle of the Bulge, Ewell commanded the 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam from February 1968 to April 1969, and then commanded II Field Forces until April 1970.

Rightly or wrongly, Ewell is widely regarded as one of the foremost exponents of what has become known as the "body count syndrome." From December 1968 to May 1969, the large-scale operations of the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta claimed almost 11,000 enemy dead—but only some 750 weapons were actually recovered. Critics claim this as an indication of a high number of civilians dead. Among General Ewell's most vocal critics was the late Colonel David Hackworth, and even an Army Inspector General report in 1972 concluded that "a fairly solid case can be constructed to show that civilian casualties may have amounted to several thousand."

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As a colonel, Maj. Gen. Ira A. Hunt Jr. served as Ewell's chief of staff, and his book is based on his first-hand experience and the records that he compiled at the time. Hunt directly addresses the problems of weapons retrieval and "collateral damage," but he also offers a number of extremely significant insights to many of the tactical innovations pioneered by the 9th Infantry Division and the unique problems of military operations in the Mekong Delta. Those key innovations include: air/ground tactics for operating in the Delta, specifically "Bushmaster" and "Checkerboard" tactics; the "Constant Pressure" operational concept; night operations in the Delta; the "Safe Step Program" to reduce the effects of booby traps; and the measures to deal with the problem of immersion foot while operating on terrain almost completely covered by several inches of water. Another key topic is the 9th Infantry Division's sniper program. It was the only Army division to make widespread use of snipers in Vietnam. The Marine Corps conducted all other significant sniper operations. In fact, the 9th Infantry Division's Sergeant Adelbert Waldron was America's top-scoring sniper of all time with 109 confirmed kills. Receiving two Distinguished Service Crosses, Waldron also became the most decorated sniper.

General Ewell and Hunt were strong believers in using quantitative analysis to study, improve and focus military operations. In support of his arguments, General Hunt provides extensive statistics and tables. Many believe that the "bean-counter approach" to military operations was thoroughly discredited in Vietnam, but Hunt offers compelling evidence that systematic analysis can be applied to good effect. Thus, Hunt's book will generate plenty of controversy, but his arguments deserve detailed consideration. This volume should be read by all serious students of the Vietnam War.

University of Kentucky Press, 2010
 


32 Responses to “Book Review - The 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam: Unparalleled and Unequaled, by Maj. Gen. Ira A. Hunt Jr. (Ret.)”


  1. 1
    Alexander Kaufbusch says:

    As a Combat Soldier serving in Vietnams Mekong delta I can only State that that man Ira Hunt was the BIGGEST Glory Hound in the Delta!!! All Awards That he received in the 9th Div. were Medals that HE HIMSELF Awarded himself. I lost several Brothers to His Stupidety!! No combat Experiance and as a Deskhound trying to outdo the Company Comanders on the Ground! He and Gen.Ewell are NOT wellcome in any 9th Div. Reunions!!! Alexander Kaufbusch A. Co. 3Bn 60th INF. 9th Inf. Div. Mekong Delta.

  2. 2
    Bruce Ham Hamrick says:

    I remember the emphasis on body count . Instructions were engage all draft age mail with fire thiis would be the last info given on the Radio when on ops.

    Bruce (Ham) Hamrick Aco3/60

  3. 3
    Kenny Foss says:

    It would be very hard for General Ewell to attend any reunions since he passed away in 2009. However, I might add, although not serving in the command of these two gentlemen, all former members of the 9th Infantry Division are welcome at our reunions. I don't think it appropriate for any of our brothers to be excluded based upon any opinion to the contrary. Kenny Foss, Co. E, 709th Maint. Bn and HQ&A, Company 709th Maint. Bn, 9th Inf Div. (1966-1967).

  4. 4
    William Marlow says:

    I served in the 9th Div. in 1969. I will be most interested in reading Gen. Hunt's book.

  5. 5
    Orlando Gallardo says:

    All units had soldiers killed by stupid decisions and self centered commanders. No different today. We did not learn anything in Vietnam. We had Bn Cdrs. in all units, specially the 9th ID that were inept, just wanted glory for themselves at the cost of us (cannon meat draftees) some gave themselves awards up to 15 Silver Stars the same year, at a rate of 1 Silver Star every 3 and half weeks while they were in command. Shame. Even in todays records they are regarded as heroes, and most decorated soldiers in the VN conflict. LtCol. Hack is one of them.

  6. 6
    Johnny says:

    If you were above an E-6 and you received the Silver star, you may have been a brave man. If you were a E-5 or lower in rank and received the Silver Star, you are a brave man.

  7. 7
    Doc Dale Jones says:

    I was a combat medic with Bravo then Charlie Co 4/47th. I remember clearly being told we would not leave the field until there was a body count. Shortly thereafter we would stage a fire fight and report casualties. Also there were boards on the barracks ships with the number of verified body counts by company. Also there were "SAT Cong" badges given to troops who had verifiable kills. The boards came down quickly after someone wrote "how many GI's died". We had one Capt. who awarded himself every possible combat award. He was the biggest coward I met in VN. He is now in the Infantry hall of fame in Ft.Benning. What a bunch of B.S. Still would like to read the book. Maybe I missed something.

  8. 8
    Wayne Blessing says:

    Served with Alpha 2nd/39th 68&69. I was a groundpounder along with many others. We were , like those before us, simply cannon fodder. I was luck to serve with some very fine men. Most of my company commanders were fine soldiers. I have gotten to Gen Hunt. Like all of us he would probably like to change decisions made in those days. I did agree with Johnnys comments on awards and decorations. Lots of the cannon fodder got little recognition. I find it interesting that every Bn Commander came home with at least one Silver Star.

  9. 9
    Ron Van Dyck says:

    Given the choice I would have rather fought in another war. But, Vietnam was the only war we had I was soldiering. I did observe some poor leadership there, but also some brilliant, courageous officers, non-coms and soldiers, in and out of combat. But, that was a long time ago, and from what I see and hear, our Army today is the best it can be. The officers are well trained, the non-commissioned officers are entrusted with greater responsibilities than then, and the ground soldiers, combat support, and combat service support soldiers surperb. We did learn our lessons. Hooah!!

  10. 10
    Lou DeOlde says:

    Only started the book and found a few things not to my likeing. #1 was on the back cover the (th Div patch is displayed wrong.

    On page 9 line t has "united hands and minds" as the meaning of "Dong Tam". I always knew the meaning as "United Hearts and Minds"

    On page 26. Photo show our Bong Tam base. Someone reversed the plate as if you are standing in the river facing the camp, the canal that runs straigh in a n/w direction is on the left. Main gat to My Tho would be on the right.. Sloppy editing

  11. 11
    Lou DeOlde says:

    Who are the critics who claim that mist have beem more civialin deaths due to not getting a weapon with each body. I suspect they have nvere had the pleasure of hunting and killing someone who is trying to kill you. Not all bad guys/women carried rifles or hand guns.

  12. 12
    Ed Eaton says:

    One thing you have to remember about the Mekong: Unlike the rest of the country; it was wet and weapons were easily lost in just 6" of rice patty not to mention the overabundance of irrigation canals that they readily used whenever possible.

  13. 13
    TERRY BALFE says:

    ALL I CAN SAY IS THE SOLDIERS I SERVED WITH WERE THE BEST IN THE WHOLE DAM WORLD. FROM THE PFC TO OFFICERS AND OF COARES OUR CHAPLAN. GOD BLESS YOU BROTHERS. BRAVO COMPANY 3/60TH 1967 T0 1968

  14. 14
    Allan says:

    Regarding the comments about self awarded medals among the brass,
    My experience was that I never even saw any officer above the rank of Lt. Col. in the field and I only saw him for one day. I never saw any officer above Capt. during any fire fights, including TET. I served in B Co. 2/39 1967 to 4/1968.

  15. 15
    Brice H. Barnes says:

    During the period May 67-May 68, I had the pleasure of serving in the 2-47th (Mech) Inf, 9th Inf Div. As an officer, I never reported a body count unless I could stand on his chest, and most if not all my contemporaries acted the same way. Perhaps, as the numbers went up the 'food chain,' the numbers were bloated. I do know that on my 2nd tour, this time with the 199th Inf Bde, body count numbers were bloated by Battalion Commanders as a way of insuring their promotion to 0-6. I suspect that those who criticized MG (later LTG) Ewell's tactics have a hidden ax to grind, as many people still have unsettled anger about the war, or are still anti-military.

    For the many courtesies he showed me on the day before I left Vietnam, and for the sound advice he gave me later, I thank him, and will continue to honor his life by having his signed photograph on my wall.

    For all those who served in the various battalions of the 47th Infantry Regiment, check out our website at http://www.47inf.org, and come to our Reunion in April 2012!

    • 15.1
      Ben Feldman says:

      Hey Brice;
      Just to let you know I read your message. I served with the 2nd of the 47th Infantry (Mech, APCs) as well from late 1966 to 1967 with William Cronin who was killed in 1967.

      I started out from Custer Hill, Fort Riley, Kansas with my division, I was a 05c20, radio commo operator in the MeKong Delta. It's nice to see that some of our brothers are savy on the internet.

      Regards,
      Ben Feldman, SP4, HQ, 2nd Battalion, 47th Inf. Regiment, 9th Div.

      • 15.1.1
        Rick Combs says:

        Mr. Feldman -
        Quite something you served with my uncle, Bill Cronin. You are the
        first person I've heard say that in 45 years. I suppose it's
        possible I may have met you in D.C. at his service. If you may
        know more about him or may have pictures you could share,
        I'd be very interested. It's strange to think that
        I'm older than
        he was at the time we lost him and so many others. You men
        are true heroes and I feel the rest of us owe you many thanks
        for risking — even losing your lives for us, whom were safe, back
        home because you served. Many thanks!

  16. 16
    Paul Hagerman says:

    I was a friend in high school of Tom Goodale.
    Tom was with the 9th int. He was killed on Dec. 22,1968.
    If anyone knew him or has any info. About Tom I would like to hear about it. Thanks for your time.

  17. 17
    Robert Williams says:

    oh i remember Gen Ira Hurt Brigade Commander 1st Brigade,always walking around Firebase Danger with Col. Hackworth in tow. Everything you guys have said is true i was in the 4th 39th B company.
    Coming off the Riverine duty what a hell hole and humping the rocket belt and finally getting the plain of Reeds as our AO was no picnic. I often think back on my time in the Delta as the most dangerious experience any grunt could have had.yet there was inexperienced Officers Commanders, total terror and one hell of a war down there day after day. After many years i realized that the Vietnam War ended July 9th 1969 are there abouts. the Gooks had acommplished his objective by forcing civilians to spring ambushes, in a region where 35% of all the people who lived in Vietnan lived he found it was much easier to control; public opinion in the US than it was to fight a pack of hard ass GI's day after day a fight he could not win. Of the many books written about the Mekong Delta nobody has come close to telling the horror of that place,of the fight that required so much in blood sweat and tears. i finished up north with the 3/8th 4th division and later 1/6th Americal. the difference was day and night.

  18. 18
    Robert Williams says:

    i will read Gen Hunt's book but i also understand after all this time,like no other conflict among human happening with many books and discussions. the writers are trying to tell you something about a place time and experince. that just can't be made clear to the reader.the public, did not understand that the VC and the NVA were two different hostile forces. to them there was the Americans and the Viet Gong.
    that whole country was three different places.the terrain and the enviroment was hostile and unforgiving.these things i have mentioned were a nightmares for the people on the ground and a crap shoot for them that made the plans. yet there was bad officers commanders and troops. but war itself is the impossibilty of reason, by all accounts.

  19. 19
    Robert Williams says:

    the know nots know nothing and listened to nothing.the VC played out as well as planned a psychological war from day one. they knew they could not defeat the Americans, General Westmoreland knew the Delta would be the key to the conflict! between 3 and 4 corp was a 230,000 member Communist Infastructure. very seldom did enemy
    troops spend time laying boody traps. the way for them coming and going was provided. they had specialist in all phases of jungle warfare.
    the American press ,nor did the American people understand that the GI was out manned as well as out gunned. i believe that the war was over the day the first troops of the 9th division boarded planes for home. the delta was over run with VC back to back wall to wall, in every village and walk of live.the Delta was a unique location for the VC less than a few clicks from the Cambodia broder. where they could cross into the CHI CU area of 3 corp and back and fore. one period from AUG-THE BEGINING OF OCT was one continuious fire fight, we were fighting large units. not like the small units and the hit and run tactics of the dry season when we faced wall to wall booby traps.his agents layed so many booby traps especially where he did not want you to go.we had to call for B52 raids to clear to traps.GOOKS unlike Americans seldom dropped anything. they hide there dead and took their weapons,nothing for us to count especially weapons. we fellowed blood trails all the time very seldom finding bodies but lots and lots of blood. we fought in there home turf and they knew how to use it to there advantage every inch of the trail.

  20. 20
    Robert Williams says:

    well now it seems some of the brothers are filtering in on this and thats good.Vietnam ,like no other has inspired many books and articles and even documentaries and all together. a fracgmented picture of the experience emerges.Gen Ewell, the day we were moving out of the battlion area at Dong Tam he was walking among us talking here and there. I got a good look at Body Count Joe that day.i keep hearing a lot of talk about body counts in the 9th division.you could make that claim but you had to prove it by lining the bodies up to be counted and another thing if civilians were hurt in a ambush because shit happens. every solider had to give a statement of account. no where but in the Delta did i witness are participate in this type of thing.
    now everybody in the 9th division knows that the bigger the contact the more blood trails but once the blood is drained the trail goes cold
    now if they cant move the body and the gun its simple thay take the gun at all cost. i got no problem with that not even with the little bastard who thought that up my problem is with them who would say these people were civilians you killed! to that i say sleep one night in area 470 and you sleep for enternity and we as soilders can say a civilian was killed last night and he would be the only civilian killed in that place.

  21. 21
    Jon Brendan says:

    All of us knew of certain officers who were only concerned about their next promotion. For a different view of Gen. Hunt , read
    "Steel My Soldiers' Hearts " by Col. David Hackworth.

    • 21.1
      robert williams says:

      i don't have to read that book, since i served under Col Hackworth as commander of the 4th/39th and Gen Hurt was a frequent visitor to Fire base Danger as Brigade Commander and not to mention the fact that he did not know an oz of shit about combat operations in Base 470 let alone the Rocket Belt. But he was an up and coming Shining Star are at least in some circles, just not among the Grunts of the 4th and 39th Infantry. We had been there to long and seen to much and the pictures were not pretty and the Delta was the most dangerous place in Vietnam. Just about everything in the book is true, however most of the times names are not mentioned with good cause. I felt Col.Hackworth was always looking to write the next chapter to his book. but to me he did not give much thought to being killed, he got out his copter charged a GOOK with an AK in a bunker and took a bullet in the thigh before killing the GOOK. one lone GOOK, he would jump out his chopper for one deadly encounter,ok if he ment to inspire his troops i think that was simple just get on the ground and hump a click are two. i talk with him more than once. one thing about him he was taking in the here and now but his face showed he was somewhere else at the same time in his head he always had a strange look of fearing nothing. what made him different is that its a fact we owned the day night and also the sky. under him we own the real estate too!

  22. 22
    robert williams says:

    you email me Robert Williams at gup74@hotmail.com

  23. 23
    ROBERT WILLIAMS says:

    i have said the Delta was the most dangerous place to have to patrol let alone try and control. i say this with knowledge, my second tour i spent time with the 4th infantry division, the 198TH of the Amercical Division at Fire support base Mary Ann yes the Mary Ann and the 1st Battlion 1st Marine Division that was a Field Force One Assignment. but in those AO's Charlie dug in and preferred you came across open space. not to mention he stayed close to the border. farther north he ran regimental size operations in I corp, these places where no picnics areas and the action was heavy all the time. the fight was there but not the terror you faced in the dead by the yard Delta, with 80 foot channels and rivers that snaked along for miles with countless booby traps wall to wall. i had no trouble enjoying the hard rock ground and high mountains. ground you could defend and solid things you could get behind. i remember hiding behind behind grass to dodge bullets in the mud of the Delta we started out in III corp but quickly joined the rest of the division in the mud AND BOOBY TRAP capital of all the world. but if you had to hump and fight 3,2and1 were the places to be.

  24. 24
    Gene Clifton (CLIFF) says:

    I served with the 4th. & 39th. 9th. infantry and we were always doing something that that put us at risk because some of the decisions made by the brass ,wanting all of the body count for their record so us grunts didn`t get artillery and air support at times we needed it. That was in 1968 running with the boats & choppers. I look back now and think of the brothers that died because of some self centered prick officer trying to rank up at the price of brave grunts that all they wanted was to do their job and GO HOME,back to THE WORLD. Gene Clifton (CLIFF) Darlington, S.C>

  25. 25
    T. Michaelides says:

    I was just a small boy when you that was fought, so all of my information comes onlyfrom books, Until I read Col. Hackworth's book i never understood how a soldier could frag an officer, a fellow countrymen. Hearing first hand how Col. Hunt gave no regard for the safety of the grunts he ordered into the rocket belt for the purpose of clearing out a few VC when he knew the area was chock full of booby traps, how his sole concern was for decorating his uniform with phoney medals, including one from a battle where he likely killed his own troops with friendly fire makes me understand why the practice persisted. Col. Hackworth praised many 0f his superior officers, so I don't believe he had an axe to grind. He called it like he saw it, and Hunt was a phoney, a liar and had no business being in command of infantrymen. I can't imagine the daily horror you men endured being forced to hump the rocket belt per this fools orders

  26. 26
    David Martinez says:

    I believe the man on the cover of the book is my father, Julio Cesar Martinez Malave from Puerto Rico. If anybody can attest to this or remembers him, please respond. Thanks!

  27. 27
    Wayne Burton says:

    As adjutant of the 9th Signal Battalion 12/68 to 9/69 when we were pulled out I can attest to several forms of corruption, including medal inflation. We were told that all E-5's and below were to get two greens (Army commendation) and red (bronze star – achievement). All E-6's and above including officers, had to get two reds and one green. At first I had to write completely false recommendations. After I complained, the AG allowed us to send DFs with a list of names.

    Our commanding officer, Colonel Bowers, ordered me to write him up for a special award even though he instructed me to give him credit for events with which he had nothing to do.

    Our most decorated soldier was my Awards and Decorations clerk who I saw after we redeployed to Schofield with one of the biggest fruit salad of awards I had ever seen. When challenged, he confessed he just added his name to the bottom of every DF he carried to HQ. He even had the Air Medal, third Oak Leaf Cluster even though he flew in and flew out and that was it.

    No honor.

  28. 28
    Ed Eaton says:

    I don't know Mr. Burton or how the REMSs did it in the 9th. But I do know that, I know men from BCo. 3.60th 9th Infantry who were Pointmen, Machinegunners, Ammo Bearers. Medics, Squad Leaders, et al: and who all were stellar soldiers; never got even on Bronze Star. In fact I can tell that the average soldier in my unit that just happened to be alive 9 months later never even got a Bronze Star with or without a V device. We were lucky to get a AC. We did however receive an over abundance of Purple Hearts.
    Don't judge a Grunt by the actions of a REMF!
    Ed Eaton



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