Carlos Hathcock PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 23 October 2008 18:53

Carlos Norman Hathcock II

Born: May 20, 1942 Little Rock, Arkansas

Died: February 23, 1999 Virginia Beach, Virginia

Age: 56

Cause of death: Multiple Sclerosis

Notable because: US military top sniper. 20th century's longest distance kill. 1.42 miles.

Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Norman Hathcock II was a United States Marine Corps sniper with a service record of 93 confirmed kills and more than 300 probable kills during the Vietnam War.  Hathcock's record and the extraordinary details of the missions he undertook made him a legend in the Marine Corps. His fame as a sniper and his dedication to long distance shooting led him to become a major developer of the United States Marine Corps Sniper training program. He has, in recent years, also had the honor of having a rifle named after him, a variant of the M21 dubbed the Springfield Armory M25 White Feather.

Carlos Norman Hathcock, II, was born in Geyer Springs, Arkansas on May 20, 1942. He grew up in rural Arkansas, living with his grandmother after his parents separated. He took to shooting and hunting at a young age, partly out of necessity to help feed his poor family. He would go into the woods with his dog and pretend to be an Army Ranger and hunt fake Nazis in his own little Germany. He would "hunt" at the young age with a rifle that his father had brought back from Europe during World War II. Hathcock dreamed of being a Marine throughout his childhood,, and so on May 20, 1959, at the age of 17, he enlisted in the Marine Corps.

Hathcock married Jo Winstead on November 20, 1962. Jo gave birth to a son, Carlos Norman Hathcock, III. Carlos Hathcock III would later join the Marines.

Before deploying to Vietnam, Hathcock had won many shooting championships. In 1966 Hathcock started his deployment in Vietnam as an MP and later became a sniper after Captain Edward J. Land Jr. pushed the Marines into raising snipers in every platoon. Land later recruited Marines who had set their own records in sharpshooting; he quickly found Hathcock, who had won the Wimbledon Cup, the most prestigious prize for long-range shooting, at Camp Perry in 1965.

During the Vietnam War Hathcock was confirmed for killing 93 North Vietnamese Army and Viet-Cong personnel. His actual total is believed to be well over 400, with at least an additional 300 being unconfirmed, which the official count does not reflect (during the Vietnam War, kills had to be confirmed by an acting third party; this was feasible on a battlefield, but snipers usually worked in pairs (shooter and spotter) and often did not have an acting third party present, which made confirmation difficult). He is ranked fourth, behind U.S. Marine Corps snipers Eric R. England and Chuck Mawhinney and United States Army sniper Adelbert Waldron on the list of most confirmed kills for an American sniper.

The North Vietnamese Army even put a bounty of $30,000 on his life for killing so many of their men. Rewards put on U.S. snipers by the N.V.A. typically amounted to only $8. The Viet Cong and N.V.A. called Hathcock Lông Trắng, translated as "White Feather", because of the white feather he kept in a band on his bush hat. After a platoon of trained Vietnamese snipers were sent to hunt down "White Feather", many Marines in the same area donned white feathers to deceive the enemy. These Marines were aware of the impact Hathcock's death would have, and took it upon themselves to make themselves targets in order to preserve the life of the true "White Feather".

One of Hathcock's most famous accomplishments was shooting an enemy sniper through his scope, hitting him in the eye and killing him. Hathcock and John Burke, his spotter, were stalking the enemy sniper in the jungle near Hill 55, the firebase Hathcock was operating from. The sniper had already killed several Marines, and was believed to have been sent specifically to kill Hathcock. When Hathcock saw a flash of light (light reflecting off the enemy sniper's scope) in the bushes, he fired at it, shooting through the scope and killing the sniper. Surveying the situation, Hathcock concluded that the only feasible way he could have put the bullet straight down the enemy's scope and through his eye would have been if both snipers were zeroing in on each other at the same time, and Hathcock fired first, which gave him only a few seconds to act. Given the flight time of rounds at long ranges, both snipers could easily have killed one another. The enemy rifle was recovered and the incident is documented by a photograph.

Hathcock only once removed the white feather from his bush hat while deployed in Vietnam. During a volunteer mission on his first deployment, he crawled over a thousand meters of field to shoot a commanding NVA general. He wasn't informed of the details of the mission until he was en route to his insertion point aboard a helicopter. This effort took four days and three nights, without sleep, of constant inch-by-inch crawling. In Carlos's words, one enemy soldier (or "hamburger" as Carlos called them), "shortly after sunset", almost stepped on him as he lay camouflaged with grass and vegetation in a meadow. At one point he was nearly bitten by a bamboo viper but had the presence of mind to not move and give up his position. As the general was stretching in the morning, Carlos fired a single shot which struck him in the chest and killed him. He had to crawl back instead of run when soldiers started searching.

After the arduous mission of killing the general, Hathcock returned to the United States in 1967. However, he missed the Marine Corps and returned to Vietnam in 1969, where he took command of a platoon of snipers.

Hathcock generally used the standard sniper rifle: The Winchester Model 70 .30-06 caliber rifle with the standard Unertl scope. On some occasions, however, he used a different weapon: the .50-caliber M2 Browning Machine Gun, on which he mounted the Unertl scope, using a bracket of his own design.

This weapon was accurate to 2500 yards when fired one round at a time. At one point, he took careful aim at a courier carrying a load of assault rifles and ammunition on a bicycle. He had second thoughts when he saw a 12-year-old boy in his sights, but after considering the intended use of those weapons, he decided to disable the bicycle, hitting the bike frame. The boy tumbled over the handlebars, grabbed a gun, and immediately began firing back, so Hathcock killed him. (Source Marine Sniper, Chapter 1.)

Hathcock's career as a sniper came to a sudden end outside Khe Sanh in 1969, when an amphibious amtrack he was riding on struck an anti-tank mine. Hathcock pulled seven Marines off the flame-engulfed vehicle before jumping to safety. He was told he would be recommended for the Silver Star, but he stated that he had only done what anyone there would have if they were awake, so he rejected any commendation for his bravery. Nearly 30 years later, he was awarded the Silver Star, the third most prestigious award in U.S. military.

Hathcock said in a book written about his career as a sniper:

"I like shooting, and I love hunting. But I never did enjoy killing anybody. It's my job. If I don't get those bastards, then they're gonna kill a lot of these kids we got dressed up like Marines. That's just the way I see it."

After returning to active duty, Hathcock helped establish a scout and sniper school at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia. Due to his extreme injuries suffered in Vietnam, he was in nearly constant pain, but he continued to dedicate himself to teaching snipers. In 1975, Hathcock's health began to deteriorate and he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis — an incurable, degenerative nerve disorder. He stayed in the Corps but his health continued to decline and was forced to retire just 55 days short of the 20 years that would have made him eligible for full retirement pay. Being medically retired, he received 100% disability. He fell into a state of depression when he was forced out of the Marines because he felt as if the service kicked him out. During this depression his wife Jo almost left him, but she finally decided to stay. Hathcock eventually picked up the hobby of shark fishing with the locals, which is accredited to helping his depression. Hathcock often paid visits to the sniper training facility at Quantico, where he was welcomed by students and instructors alike as being "bigger than life" due to his status in shooting circles.

Hathcock once said that he survived in his work because of an ability to "get in the bubble," to put himself into a state of "utter, complete, absolute concentration," first with his equipment, then his environment, in which every breeze and every leaf meant something, and finally on his quarry.

After the war, a friend showed Hathcock a passage written by Ernest Hemingway: "Certainly there is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and like it, never really care for anything else thereafter." He copied Hemingway's words on a piece of paper. "He got that right," Hathcock said. "It was the hunt, not the killing."

After retirement, Gunny began training Law Enforcement almost exclusively. Gunny instructed the Virginia Beach Police Department’s SWAT snipers from 1984 until he passed away in February of 1999. This training was done on a weekly basis at no charge to the city. Gunny was the chief instructor of the Virginia Beach Police Department Annual Law Enforcement Sniper School. This school was started in 1987 and continues on today, training SWAT Officer's from all over the country.

Hathcock died on February 23, 1999, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, after a long struggle with multiple sclerosis.

Hathcock was awarded a Silver Star in 1969, ironically not for his sniping, but for saving the lives of seven fellow Marines after the armored personnel carrier (APC) in which they were riding struck a mine. Hathcock was knocked unconscious, but awoke in time to race back through the flames to reach his comrades.

Hathcock remains a legend within the U.S. Marines. The Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock Award is presented annually to the Marine who does the most to promote marksmanship training. A sniper range is also named for Hathcock at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

In 1967 Hathcock set the record for the 20th century's longest combat kill with a Browning M2 .50 BMG machine gun mounting a telescopic sight. The distance was 2,286 meters or 1.42 miles. Hathcock was one of several individuals to utilize the Browning M2 machine gun in the sniping role. This success led to the adoption of the .50 BMG cartridge as a viable anti-personnel and anti-equipment sniper round. Sniper rifles have since been designed around and chambered in this caliber.

The record stood until the 21st century, when in 2002 it was broken during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan by a Canadian three-man sniper team led by Master Corporal Graham Ragsdale from the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI). The record itself was set by Corporal Rob Furlong with a shot of 2,430 meters from a McMillan TAC-50 Long-Range Sniper Weapon on a Taliban fighter.

On March 9, 2007 the rifle and pistol complex at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar was officially renamed the Carlos Hathcock Range Complex.

Hathcock was the subject of four books:

  • One Shot, One Kill by Charles W. Sasser and Craig Roberts tells the stories of several snipers, including Hathcock.
  • White Feather: Carlos Hathcock, USMC Scout Sniper--an Authorized Biographical Memoir by Roy F. and Norman A. Chandler.
  • Silent Warrior by Charles W. Henderson.
  • Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills by Charles W. Henderson



Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 December 2008 15:35

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