9th ID commander Major General Julian Ewell (1968-69) initiated operations like Operation Speedy Express which stressed killing as many VC/NVA as possible with overwhelming force. Op Speedy later came under fire by the press because of the low kill to weapon ration (accused of killing a lot of civilians).
Huge free fire zones helped to boost the VC/NVA kill ratio to American KIA of 134:1 in April 1969. A quote of Gen Ewell was, “the hearts and minds approach can be overdone….in the delta the only way to overcome VC control and terror is with brute force applied against the VC”
A reputable officer, Col. David Hackworth, was a battalion commander during Speedy Express, according to him, “a lot of innocent Vietnamese civilians got slaughtered because of the Ewell-Hunt (Ira Hunt, CoS) drive to have the highest count in the land.” Hackworth added that “the 9th Division had the lowest weapons-captured-to-enemy-killed ratio in Vietnam.”
There were very few limits placed on those in contact and contact was encouraged. From privates to gunships, Forward Observers and anyone with the power to kill a Vietnamese, all were free to blast away. The unofficial goal of the 9th was to kill 1000 enemy per week. That goal was sustained as long as Ewell was the commander.
Op Speedy Express alone accounted for 10,889 enemy KIA (December 1968 – May 11, 1969). If Ewell had not been promoted to II Field Force CO, he might well have completely depopulated the Delta. Well, that’s one way to do it.