Lieutenant General Julian J. Ewell
Julian J. Ewell, 93, a retired Army lieutenant general who was a highly decorated paratrooper in World War II and who oversaw a major combat operation in Vietnam that critics inside and outside the military said killed thousands of civilians, died of pneumonia on July 27
Gen. Ewell held two top command positions in Vietnam, as commander of the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta and later as commander of II Field Force, the largest Army combat command in Vietnam.
Under his command between December 1968 and May 1969, the 9th Infantry Division launched a large-scale offensive, Operation Speedy Express, that aimed to quickly eliminate enemy troops with overwhelming force. 10,899 enemies were killed during the operation.
Gen. Ewell was known in Vietnam for his attention to the enemy "body count," considered an indication of success in the war. Subordinates noted that he never ordered them to kill civilians but was insistent about increasing the body count.
In an interview Tuesday, Ira Hunt, a retired major general who was Gen. Ewell's chief of staff in the 9th Infantry Division, called him a "tremendous tactician and innovator." By training large numbers of soldiers to be snipers, Hunt said, "We took the night away from the enemy. . . . They just totally unraveled in the Delta. He got the idea of putting night vision devices on helicopters, and we stopped the infiltration."
Gen. Ewell had the support of his superiors, as well. When he was promoted to command the II Field Force, Gen. Creighton Abrams called Gen. Ewell a "brilliant and sensitive commander . . . and he plays hard." Critics of Gen. Ewell's command, Hunt said Tuesday, were engaging in "sour grapes."
Gen. Ewell's 1995 book with Hunt, "Sharpening the Combat Edge," said, "The 9th Infantry Division and II Field Force, Vietnam, have been criticized on the grounds that 'their obsession with body count' was either basically wrong or else led to undesirable practices."
The charge was not true, they wrote, and Gen. Ewell's approach, "which emphasized maximum damage to the enemy, ended up by 'unbrutalizing' the war, so far as the South Vietnamese people and our own forces were concerned. The Communists took a different view, as could be expected."
After Vietnam, Gen. Ewell became military adviser to the U.S.-Vietnam delegation at the Paris peace talks. He retired in 1973 as chief of staff at the NATO Southern Command in Naples.
Julian Johnson Ewell was born Nov. 5, 1915, in Stillwater, Okla. He attended Duke University for two years before entering the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1939. He became a paratrooper in World War II.
Before dawn on D-Day, he jumped into Normandy with the 101st Airborne Division. So many paratroopers missed their landing zones that then-Lt. Col. Ewell found only 40 of the 600 men in his battalion, but they managed to regroup and engage the Germans. In fall 1944, he parachuted into Holland, fighting in the defense of the Belgian city of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army's second-highest honor, for holding off two German divisions.
In 1952, he was sent to Korea as commander of an infantry regiment. He later spent four years at West Point, rising to assistant commandant of cadets. He became executive assistant to presidential military aide Gen. Maxwell Taylor at the Kennedy White House. He later served as executive to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon and as chief of staff at V Corps in Germany before he went to Vietnam in 1968.
His other military awards included four awards of the Distinguished Service Medal, two awards of the Silver Star, two awards of the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart and the Air Medal.
His marriages to Mary Gillem Ewell and Jean Hoffman Ewell ended in divorce. His wife of 40 years, Beverly McGammon Moses Ewell, died in 1995. In 2005, he married retired U.S. ambassador to Madagascar Patricia Gates Lynch Ewell, in a ceremony performed at the U.S. Supreme Court offices of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.