Carlos Hathcock

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Gunny Hathcock in 1996
Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Norman Hathcock II (May 20, 1942 – February 23, 1999) was a United States Marine Corps sniper with a service record of 93 confirmed kills. 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.[1]


[edit] Biography

[edit] Early life

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,[2] 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 enlist in the Marines;[3] he retired from the Marine Corps as a Gunnery Sergeant after following in his father's footsteps as a shooter, and is currently a member of the Board of Governors of the Marine Corps Distinguished Shooters Association[4].

[edit] Marine Corps career

Before deploying to Vietnam, Hathcock had won many shooting championships.[5] 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.[5]

During the Vietnam War Hathcock was confirmed for killing 93 North Vietnamese Army and Viet-Cong personnel.[6][5](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.[7][5] 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.[8] 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.[2] 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,[2] he fired at it, shooting through the scope and killing the sniper.[5] 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.[2] 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.[9] 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.[2]

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 returned fire, killing 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.[5] 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."[10]

[edit] After the Vietnam War

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 helped him overcome his depression.[11] 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.[12]

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, Hathcock began training Law Enforcement almost exclusively. Hathcock instructed the Virginia Beach Police Department’s SWAT snipers from 1984 until he passed away in February 1999. This training was done on a weekly basis at no charge to the city. Hathcock was the chief instructor of the Virginia Beach Police Department Annual Law Enforcement Sniper School, which was established in 1987 and continues to train SWAT officers from all over the country.

Hathcock died on February 23, 1999, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, after a long struggle with multiple sclerosis.[5]

[edit] Decorations

  • Silver Star

Hathcock was awarded a Silver Star in 1969, ironically not for his sniping, but for saving the lives of seven fellow Marines after the amphibious tractor (amtrac) on 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.[10]

  • Purple Heart

[edit] Legacy

Hathcock remains a legend in the U.S. Marine Corps. The Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock Award is presented annually to the Marine who does the most to promote marksmanship training.[13] 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 was broken 35 years later, in 2002, 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.[14]

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

[edit] MythBusters reenactment

In an episode of the fourth season of the television show MythBusters (29 November 2006, Episode 67), hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman attempted to test the feasibility of shooting through the scope of another rifle, citing the confirmed Hathcock incident of shooting a North Vietnamese sniper through the sniper's scope. They were unable to replicate the results in the story using the modern equipment they had on hand, so they declared the myth "busted." However, they did not replicate the exact conditions of Hathcock's combat incident. The MythBusters did not take into consideration powder loads, bullet weight, muzzle velocity, angle, or variations in air pressure and density. On the show, they conceded that they were not shooting at the same scope that Hathcock shot at and stated that under the exactly ideal conditions and with extreme luck, the shot may have been possible. In the episode aired on March 21, 2007, the MythBusters revisited this myth and confirmed that it was possible; however, they had to use armor-piercing rounds to fully penetrate the scope. They used a vintage scope this time, which was smaller than modern scopes, and Hyneman successfully fired a bullet through the scope. The bullet penetrated the ballistic gel dummy's face to a depth of two inches, which would be lethal to a human. However, it should be noted that on the March 21, 2007 episode, Hyneman used an M1 Garand chambered in .30-06 Springfield, whereas Hathcock used a Winchester Model 70 chambered in .30-06 Springfield. Additionally, Hyneman was only able to complete the shot successfully when he fired an armor-piercing round, while Hathcock stated in interviews that he would normally use only standard military ball ammunition. Because of these caveats and the lack of solid evidence on this specific incident, the hosts of the television show declared that the retest showed the myth to only be "plausible" rather than "confirmed".

[edit] Interview

A three-part interview with Carlos Hathcock by Maj. John Plaster. In the first part of the interview, Hathcock recounts the events of the famous "through-the-scope" shot. The full segment runs about 30 minutes.

In the second segment, Hathcock discusses the "Apache Woman," a female Vietnamese sniper who had been in the habit of torturing and mutilating prisoners.

In the third segment, Hathcock talks about his modifications to the M2 machine gun and his record-setting shot.

[edit] In fictional works

  • There is a nod to Hathcock in the Steven Spielberg film, Saving Private Ryan. Steven Spielberg stated, "the idea of a sniper putting a bullet through another sniper's scope came from the true story of Carlos Hathcock, who killed a Vietcong sniper who was stalking him by putting a bullet through the sniper's scope". Similarly, Pvt. Jackson (Barry Pepper) shot a German sniper in the eye through the German's scope.
  • James S. Thayer, a popular action/adventure novelist, wrote a novel titled White Star, about an Former Marine sniper named Owen Gray, nicknamed White Star by the Vietnamese, whose exploits closely match those of Hathcock. His nemesis in the book is a fictional son of the equivalent of Vasily Zaytsev.
  • There is a reference to Hathcock in the television show NCIS during the episode "One Shot One Kill", when a small white feather is found at the crime scenes of a sniper's victims.
  • The protagonist of Stephen Hunter's Bob Lee Swagger Trilogy (consisting of the novels Point of Impact, Black Light, and Time to Hunt) is loosely based on Carlos Hathcock. The film Shooter (2007) is based on Stephen Hunter's work.
  • The movie Sniper (1993) features actor Tom Berenger shooting the enemy sniper through his own scope. This is probably based on Hathcock's story as well (Berenger's character was loosely based on Hathcock).
  • The character of Vassili Zaitsev in the 2001 movie Enemy at the Gates comes across a dead sniper that has been shot in the head through the scope.
  • In the episode 14 of the anime Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG, Section 9 member Saito is shot through the scope of his Seburo SR50 bolt-action sniper rifle during his freelancer days in the Central/South American campaign, a tactic by Motoko Kusanagi similar to that used by Hathcock.
  • The movie RoboCop 2 contains a segment where the camera is from the point of view of the sniper scope. The sniper is looking at RoboCop, who turns around and shoots the enemy, the bullet going through the sniper scope.
  • In Frank Miller's graphic novel, Sin City, episode "To Hell and Back", protagonist Wallace shoots a sniper in the head, the bullet entering through the sniper's rifle scope.
  • In John Ringo's book, Unto the Breach (of the Paladin of Shadows series), it is stated about the sniper Lasko "He was going to beat Hathcock's record, probably within the next fifteen minutes. And that was the killer app in the sniper world."

[edit] See also

  • Jack Coughlin, a retired Marine sniper with over 60 confirmed kills whose service includes Iraq and Somalia
  • Simo Häyhä, a Finnish World War II sniper holds the world record of 505 confirmed kills
  • M40 sniper rifle, the Marine Corps sniper rifle used by Hathcock
  • Chuck Mawhinney holds the highest number of confirmed kills (103) for any USMC sniper in history
  • Billy Sing, an Australian World War I sniper who had an unconfirmed 201 kills
  • Adelbert Waldron, who holds the record for the most confirmed kills in U.S. military history, with 109 kills in Vietnam

[edit] References

  1. Springfield M25 308 Tactical, White Feather Edition
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Charles Henderson. Marine Sniper, New York: Berkley Books, 1986. p.29. (ISBN 0-425-18165-0)
  3. Still Asset Details for DMSD9802324 Office of the Secretary of Defense 1996 "Standing next to Gunnery Sgt. Hathcock is his son, Staff Sgt. Carlos Hathcock, Jr."
  4. Marine Corps Distinguished Shooters Association Board of Governors Marine Corps Distinguished Shooters Association 2008
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Marine Corps Sniper Carlos N. Hathcock II Sgt. Grit 2006
  6. Marine Corps Sets Sights On More Precise Shooting National Defense Magazine March 2003"Founded in 1977, the school’s first staff NCOIC was the famed sniper, Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock II, who was credited with 93 confirmed kills in Vietnam."
  7. Sniper Rifles GlobalSecurity "During the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese Army placed bounties from $8 to $2,000 on the heads of Marine snipers. Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock, with 93 confirmed kills, actually held the record bounty of $30,000 and killed every Vietnamese marksman who sought it."
  8. Charles Henderson, Marine Sniper
  9. ^ Sasser, Charles and Craig Roberts (1990). One Shot, One Kill. New York: Pocket Books. pp. 208. ISBN 0-671-68219-9.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Washington Post Obituary February 27, 1999, quoted in SniperCentral
  11. Charles Henderson. Marine Sniper, New York: Berkley Books, 1986. p.306. (ISBN 0-425-18165-0)
  12. Lantz, Gary "[White Feather]" America's 1st Freedom National Rifle Association 2007-04-17
  13. MARADMIN 148/06 - 2006 CAPITAL MARINE USMC AND USN ENLISTED AWARDS, United States Marine Corps, 3/28/2006.
  14. Range complex named after famous Vietnam sniper Marine Corps News, United States Marine Corps, 2008-03-24

[edit] Sources

  • Henderson, Charles W. Marine Sniper, Stein and Day Publishers, 1986. (ISBN 0-425-10355-2)
  • Henderson, Charles W. Silent Warrior, Berkley, 2003. (ISBN 0-425-18864-7)
  • Chandler, Roy F. Carlos Hathcock "Whitefeather", Iron Brigade Armory Publishing, 1997. (ISBN 1-885633-09-2)

[edit] External links

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