Carlos Hathcock

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Carlos Norman Hathcock
Carlos Hathcock DM-SD-98-02324.JPG
Hathcock in November 1996
Nickname(s) Lông Trắng du Kich
(English: "White Feather Sniper")
Born (1942-05-20)May 20, 1942
Little Rock, Arkansas, U.S.
Died 23 February 1999(1999-02-23) (aged 56)
Virginia Beach, Virginia, U.S.
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1959–1979
Rank USMC-E7.svg Gunnery Sergeant
Unit 1st Marine Division insignia.svg 1st Marine Division
Battles/wars Vietnam War
Awards Silver Star ribbon-3d.svg Silver Star
Navy and Marine Corps Commendation ribbon.svg Navy Commendation Medal
Purple Heart BAR.svg Purple Heart

Carlos Norman Hathcock II (20 May 1942 – 23 February 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 was honored by having a rifle named after him: a variant of the M21 dubbed the Springfield Armory M25 White Feather.

Early life and education[edit]

Hathcock was born in Little Rock, Arkansas on May 20, 1942. He grew up in rural Arkansas, living with his grandmother after his parents separated. While visiting relatives in Mississippi, he took to shooting and hunting at an early age, partly out of necessity to help feed his poor family. He would go into the woods with his dog and pretend to be a soldier and hunt imaginary Japanese with the old Mauser his father brought back from World War I. He hunted at that early age with a .22-caliber J. C. Higgins single-shot rifle. 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.[1] Hathcock married Jo Winstead on the date of the Marine Corps birthday, on November 10, 1962.[1] Jo gave birth to a son, whom they named Carlos Norman Hathcock III.

Career[edit]

Before deploying to Vietnam, Hathcock had won shooting championships, including matches at Camp Perry and the Wimbledon Cup. In 1966 Hathcock started his deployment in Vietnam as an MP and later became a sniper after Captain Edward James Land 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.[2]

Confirmed kills[edit]

During the Vietnam War Hathcock had 93 confirmed kills of North Vietnamese Army and Viet-Cong personnel.[3] During the Vietnam War, kills had to be confirmed by an acting third party, who had to be an officer, besides the sniper's spotter. Snipers often did not have an acting third party present, making confirmation difficult, especially if the target was behind enemy lines, as was usually the case.

Hathcock himself estimated that he had killed 300 or more enemy personnel during his time in Vietnam.[4]

Confrontations with NVA snipers[edit]

The North Vietnamese Army placed a bounty of $30,000 on Hathcock's life for killing so many of their men. Rewards put on U.S. snipers by the N.V.A. typically ranged from $8 to $2,000. Hathcock held the record for highest bounty and killed every Vietnamese marksman who sought it.[5] The Viet Cong and NVA called Hathcock Lông Trắng, translated as "White Feather", because of the white feather he kept in a band on his bush hat.[6] After a platoon of Vietnamese snipers was 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 confuse the counter-snipers.[7]

One of Hathcock's most famous accomplishments was shooting an enemy sniper through the enemy's own rifle scope, hitting him in the eye and killing him.[8] Hathcock and John Roland Burke, his spotter, were stalking the enemy sniper in the jungle near Hill 55, the firebase from which Hathcock was operating. The sniper, known only as the 'Cobra,' had already killed several Marines and was believed to have been sent specifically to kill Hathcock.[7] When Hathcock saw a flash of light (light reflecting off the enemy sniper's scope) in the bushes,[8] he fired at it, shooting through the scope and killing the sniper.[8] 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.[7] Given the flight time of rounds at long ranges, the snipers could have simultaneously killed one another.[8][9] Hathcock took possession of the dead sniper's rifle, hoping to bring it home as a "trophy" but, after he turned it in and tagged it, it was stolen from the armory.[10]

A female Viet Cong sniper, platoon commander, and interrogator known as "Apache" because of her methods of torturing US Marines and ARVN troops and letting them bleed to death, was killed by Hathcock. This was a major morale victory as "Apache" was terrorizing the troops around Hill 55.[11]

Assassination of an NVA Commanding General[edit]

Hathcock only once removed the white feather from his bush hat while deployed in Vietnam.[12] During a volunteer mission days before the end of his first deployment, he crawled over 1,500 yards of field to shoot an NVA commanding general.[6][12][13] He was not informed of the details of the mission until he accepted it.[9] This effort took four days and three nights, without sleep, of constant inch-by-inch crawling.[6][12][13] Hathcock said he was almost stepped on as he lay camouflaged with grass and vegetation in a meadow shortly after sunset.[1] At one point he was nearly bitten by a bamboo viper but had the presence of mind to avoid moving and giving up his position.[13] As the general exited his encampment, Hathcock fired a single shot that struck the general in the chest, killing him.[6][12][13] He had to crawl back instead of run when soldiers started searching, and later regretted taking the mission, for in the aftermath of the assassination the NVA doubled their attacks in the area, apparently in retaliation for their general being killed and leading to an increase in American casualties.[6][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24]

After the arduous mission of killing the general, Hathcock returned to the United States in 1967.[6][9][12][13] However, he missed the Marine Corps and returned to Vietnam in 1969, where he took command of a platoon of snipers.[7]

Medical evacuation[edit]

Hathcock's career as a sniper came to a sudden end along Route 1, north of LZ Baldy in September 1969, when the amtrack he was riding on, an LVT-5, struck an anti-tank mine. Hathcock pulled seven Marines off the flame-engulfed vehicle and was severely burned before jumping to safety. While recovering, Hathcock received the Purple Heart. Nearly 30 years later, he would receive the Silver Star for this action.[7] All eight injured Marines were evacuated by helicopter to the USS Repose (AH-16), then to a Naval Hospital in Tokyo, and ultimately to the burn center at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

After the Vietnam War[edit]

After returning to active duty, Hathcock helped establish the Marine Corps Scout 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. 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 would have received only 50% of his final pay grade had he retired after 20 years. He fell into a state of depression when he was forced out of the Marines, because he felt as if the service had kicked him out. During this depression, his wife Jo nearly left him, but decided to stay. Hathcock eventually picked up the hobby of shark fishing, which helped him overcome his depression.[25]

Hathcock provided sniper instruction to police departments and select military units, such as SEAL Team Six.[26]

Hathcock had one expressed wish, to make the award presentation of the Carlos. N Hathcock Award to one recipient at Quantico. (One worthy individual from each graduating sniper class receives the award, not to be confused with the annual award from the National Defense Industrial Association. This award may be presented to members of any service branch.)

The naming of an award after a living person was unprecedented for the Marine Corps. Despite receiving letters requesting that Hathcock's wish be fulfilled, the Commandant of the Marine Corps did not grant it.

Later life and death[edit]

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.[27] 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."[12] 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 dressed up like Marines. That's the way I look at it."[28]

Hathcock's son, Carlos Hathcock III, later enlisted in the Marine Corps;[29] he retired from the Marine Corps as a Gunnery Sergeant after following in his father's footsteps as a shooter and became a member of the Board of Governors of the Marine Corps Distinguished Shooters Association.[30]

Carlos Hathcock died on February 23rd, 1999, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, from complications resulting from multiple sclerosis.[31]

Awards and decorations[edit]

  • Silver Star ribbon.svg  Silver Star. Hathcock was awarded a Silver Star in 1996 not for his sniping, but for his act in 1969 of saving the lives of seven fellow Marines after the amphibious tractor (AMTRAC), an LVT-5, on which they were riding struck a landmine. Hathcock was knocked unconscious, but awoke in time to wade through the flames to rescue his injured comrades.[32]

Legacy[edit]

Hathcock remains a legend in the U.S. Marine Corps. The Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock Award is presented annually by the National Defense Industrial Association to the soldier, sailor, airman or Marine who does the most to promote marksmanship training.[33] A sniper range named for Hathcock is at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

In 1967 Hathcock set the record for the longest sniper kill. He used a M2 .50 Cal Browning machine gun mounting a telescopic sight at a range of 2,500 yd (2,286 m), killing a Vietcong guerrilla.[34] This record was broken in 2002, by Canadian snipers (Rob Furlong and Arron Perry) from the 3rd Bn. PPCLI during the War in Afghanistan. Hathcock was one of several individuals to utilize the M2 Browning machine gun in the sniping role. This success led to the adoption of the .50 BMG cartridge as a viable sniper round. Sniper rifles have since been designed around and chambered in this caliber since the 1970s. The Canadian Forces snipers from the PPCLI also used the .50 BMG round in their record-breaking shots.

Springfield Armory designed a highly accurized version of their M1A Supermatch rifle with a McMillan Stock and match grade barrel and dubbed it the "M-25 White Feather". The rifle had a likeness of Hathcock's signature and his "white feather logo" marked on the receiver.[35]

Turner Saddlery similarly honored Hathcock by producing a line of leather rifle slings based on his design. The slings are embossed with Hathcock's signature.[36]

On March 9, 2007 the rifle and pistol complex at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar was officially renamed the Carlos Hathcock Range Complex.[37]

Books[edit]

Hathcock was the subject of a number of books including:

Weaponry[edit]

Hathcock generally used the standard sniper rifle: the Winchester Model 70 .30-06 caliber rifle with the standard 8-power Unertl scope. On some occasions, however, he used a different weapon: the M2 Browning machine gun, on which he mounted a 10X Unertl scope, using a bracket of his own design.[6] Hathcock made a number of kills with this weapon in excess of 1,000 yards, including his record for the longest confirmed kill at 2,500 yards.[6][38] Hathcock carried a Colt M1911A1 pistol as a sidearm.[11]

In popular culture[edit]

Hathcock's career as a sniper has been used as a basis for a variety of fictional snipers from the "shooting through the scope incident" to the number of kills he made.

In the criminal procedural series NCIS, Hathcock was mentioned in the episode "One Shot, One Kill" when a white feather was found at two crime scenes in which the victims were shot and killed by a sniper. The series protagonist Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, a former Marine scout sniper, realized the significance of the feather as the perpetrator's "calling card", referencing Hathcock's nickname during the Vietnam War ("White Feather Sniper"). He credits Hathcock with "39 confirmed kills," apparently having transposed the digits of Hathcock's actual 93 confirmed kills.[39]

The protagonist of Stephen Hunter's Bob Lee Swagger Series consisting of the novels Point of Impact, Black Light, Time to Hunt and I, Sniper is loosely based on Carlos Hathcock (Hathcock is alluded to in the book as "Gunny Sgt Carl Hitchcock").[40][41]

The 1993 movie Sniper, featuring actor Tom Berenger, is loosely based on some of Hathcock's exploits in Vietnam.[42]

In JAG, Season 1, Episode 16 ("High Ground"), Gunnery Sergeant Ray Crockett (portrayed by Stephen McHattie) is based on Hathcock. Crockett is a sniper instructor at Quantico, Virginia, who believes that he is being "forced out of the service" short of his retirement. He makes the statement that he "wrote most of the book" on sniper operations. The character Rabb refers to an incident where Crockett pinned down an NVA unit by killing their officer with the first shot. In Beirut, Crockett used a Browning .50 to take down an enemy sniper at about 2,500 meters. Lastly, Gunny Crockett is a winner of The Wimbledon Cup.[43]

In the fourth episode of the first season of the CBS show Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, the criminal being chased by the Behavioral Analysis Unit's red cell team is a long-distance sniper killer, played by Noel Fisher. Fisher sends Mick Rawson (played by Matt Ryan) of the BAU team a package containing a pager which he uses to notify Rawson of his next kills; he signs the package "Carlos Hathcock," which Rawson explains by sharing the tale of Hathcock's 93 kills and an incident during the Vietnam War in which he was put up against the best sniper of the NVA, known only as 'Cobra' (thus mimicking the incident, since Rawson is also a skilled sniper shooter).[44]

In Barry Eisler's fictional series based on his character John Rain, the third installment (Rain Storm) contains a scene between Rain and fellow Vietnam veteran Dox. Dox was a marine sniper who had difficulties with a superior who was suspicious of his unsniper-like demeanor. He tells Rain of several kills of over a thousand yards and states: "Not bad for someone temperamentally unsuited, I'd say. Carlos Hathcock would be proud." Rain informs Dox he met Hathcock in Vietnam, to which Dox exclaims: "No! You met the man!"

The popular Discovery Channel series MythBusters tested the question of shooting another sniper through the telescope. Episode 67, entitled Firearms Folklore, aired on November 29, 2006. Myths tested included, 'Can a bullet travel through a sniper's scope and kill him?'. Using a police industry standard SWAT sniper rifle and standard police match ammunition, the MythBusters fired several shots at a scoped rifle mounted on a ballistics gel dummy. The bullet was unable to hit the dummy: it was either stopped or deflected by the multiple layers of lenses in the scope, leaving the dummy relatively unharmed. Without any clear evidence that a bullet can penetrate a sniper scope, the MythBusters decided to label the myth as "busted". But due to much debate by viewers it was revisited in episode 75. Using a period-accurate scope (this story originates from reports of Carlos Hathcock in the Vietnam War, and the scope used by Hathcock's opponent did not have the numerous internal optical elements of the scopes tested), it was found to be plausible.

Much of the background information of the character Price in the Robert James Waller book and movie Puerto Vallarta Squeeze come from Hathcock. Several of Price's stories, told first hand, come directly from Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills by Charles W. Henderson.

Actor Barry Pepper also portrays an Army Ranger Sniper who makes the famous shot through the enemies scope in the blockbuster movie "Saving Private Ryan".

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Henderson 2001, p. 29
  2. ^ NRA.org/NRA National Shooting Program/ NRA National Trophies/Wimbledon Cup
  3. ^ Kennedy, Harold (March 2003). "Marine Corps Sets Sights on More Precise Shooting". National Defense Magazine. Archived from the original on January 30, 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-30. "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." 
  4. ^ Flores, John. "The Story of Legendary Sniper Carlos Hathcock". Retrieved 19 September 2013. 
  5. ^ "Sniper Rifles". GlobalSecurity. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Henderson 2001
  7. ^ a b c d e Chandler 1997
  8. ^ a b c d Henderson 2001, p. 199
  9. ^ a b c Dockery 2007, pp. 150–153
  10. ^ Henderson 2003, p. 167
  11. ^ a b Roberts 2004, p. 56
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Henderson 2003, p. 35
  13. ^ a b c d e f Sasser & Roberts 1990, p. 208
  14. ^ Brookesmith, Peter (2007). Sniper, 2nd Edition: Training, Techniques and Weapons. St. Martin's Press. pp. 40–41. ISBN 978-0-312-36290-4. Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  15. ^ Dockery, Kevin (2007). "Into a new century". Stalkers and Shooters: A History of Snipers. Penguin Group US. p. 156. ISBN 978-1-4406-2890-0. Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  16. ^ Martin, Iain C. (2007). The Greatest U. S. Marine Corps Stories Ever Told: Unforgettable Stories of Courage, Honor, and Sacrifice. Globe Pequot Press. pp. 255–267. ISBN 978-1-59921-017-9. Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  17. ^ Childress, Clyde O. (2011). Forks: The Life of One Marine. Xlibris Corporation. p. 116. ISBN 978-1-4653-3711-5. Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  18. ^ Dye, Julia (2011). Backbone: History, Traditions, and Leadership Lessons of Marine Corps NCOs. Osprey Publishing. pp. 195–198. ISBN 978-1-84908-897-8. Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  19. ^ Lewis, Jack; Steele, David (2007). "A Skill Called Sniping". Gun Digest Book of Assault Weapons (7 ed.). Iola, Wisconsin: Gun Digest Books. pp. 51–53. ISBN 978-1-4402-2652-6. Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  20. ^ Dougherty, Martin J. (2012). "Carlos Hathcock". SAS and Elite Forces Guide Sniper: Sniping Skills from the World's Elite Forces. Lyons Press. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-7627-8876-7. Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  21. ^ Stirling, Robert (2012). Special Forces Sniper Skills. Osprey Publishing. p. 68. ISBN 978-1-78200-765-4. Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  22. ^ Coughlin, Jack; Kuhlman, Casey; Davis, Donald A. (2007). Shooter: The Autobiography of the Top-Ranked Marine Sniper. St. Martin's Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-1-4299-0322-6. Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  23. ^ Cawthorne, Nigel (2011). Confirmed Kill: Heroic Sniper Stories from the Jungles of Vietnam to the Mountains of Afghanistan. Ulysses Press. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-61243-030-0. Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  24. ^ Haskew, Michael (2005). The Sniper at War: From the American Revolutionary War to the Present Day. St. Martin's Press. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-312-33651-6. Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  25. ^ Henderson 2001, p. 306
  26. ^ Mann 2011, p. 127
  27. ^ Lantz, Gary. "White Feather". America's 1st Freedom. National Rifle Association. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-17. 
  28. ^ Senich 1996, p. 372
  29. ^ Office of the Secretary of Defense (1996). "Still Asset Details for DMSD9802324". Retrieved 2009-01-01. "Standing next to Gunnery Sgt. Hathcock is his son, Staff Sgt. Carlos Hathcock, Jr." 
  30. ^ Marine Corps Distinguished Shooters Association (2008). "Marine Corps Distinguished Shooters Association Board of Governors" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-01-01. 
  31. ^ Henderson 2003, p. 285
  32. ^ Dougan 2006, p. 256
  33. ^ USMC (January 11, 2010). "2010 Marine Corps League USMC and USN enlisted awards". United States Marine Corps. Retrieved May 9, 2010. 
  34. ^ Henderson 2003, p. 181
  35. ^ Morelli, David. "Review: Springfield Armory's M-25 Whitefeather". Tactical Gear Magazine (Gun Digest). Retrieved 2011-04-17. 
  36. ^ Greer, G.R. (2008). "Gear Review". Soldier of Fortune (Omega) 33 (9): 64. 
  37. ^ "Range complex named after famous Vietnam sniper". Marine Corps News. United States Marine Corps. Archived from the original on October 17, 2007. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  38. ^ Sasser (1990) p. 82
  39. ^ Peter Ellis, Gil Grant (2004-02-10). "One Shot, One Kill". NCIS. 60:00 minutes in. CBS.
  40. ^ Hunter, Stephen (2010). Dead Zero: A Bob Lee Swagger Novel. Simon and Schuster. p. 404. ISBN 978-1-4391-3865-6. 
  41. ^ Penzler, Otto (2009). The Lineup: The World's Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives. Hachette Digital, Inc. pp. 161–167. ISBN 978-0-316-03193-6. 
  42. ^ Luis Llosa (January 29, 1993). Sniper (DVD). United States: TriStar. 
  43. ^ Donald P. Bellisario (1996-01-13). "High Ground". JAG. 60:00 minutes in. CBS.
  44. ^ Terry McDonough (March 9, 2011). "One Shot, One Kill". Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior. 60:00 minutes in. CBS.

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]

Records
Preceded by
Unknown
Longest confirmed combat sniper-shot kill
1967–2002
2,286 m (2,500 yd / 1.420 mi)
Browning M2 w/ .50 BMG
Succeeded by
Arron Perry