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American History


A comparison report on the marine sniper

Jeremiah Larson


This paper will be about the Vietnam War, the tactics used, and it will be focusing on the marine sniper. What you will be reading is a comparison of different people and their story’s. Why some were made famous while others saw no spot light is a question many people have had about snipers. This paper will help you understand why some were never recognized while others go on talk shows and are interviewed. You will be reading why there is need for the sniper and what they did. These events were taken from first hand accounts and the missions they accomplished. Then they will be compared, the famous sniper with not so famous sniper.

The marine corps have many books of horrendous battles, brave heroes, and all around awesome stories that help show why the marine corps is the most highly respectable and honorable branch of all the US armed services. Even though Marines fight as a team it is an individual marine who wins the battle. When the marine corps recognizes an individual for his accomplishments he gets craved into our history. Such as John Basilone, Dan Daly, And Archibald Henderson, is a few that may be recognized by the public. Snipers by definition are expert marksmen. Even before firearms were invented, there have been soldiers such as archers, who were specially trained to kill from a distance and to be unseen. Snipers have special abilities, training, and equipment that allow them to do jobs that deliver highly accurate rifle fire against enemy targets which can't be attacked by regular riflemen due to variables. Such as visibility, range, the opportunity, size, or location. Statistics compiled from the Vietnam conflict estimate that the average number of rounds (bullets) used to kill one fighter in the Vietnam War by the United States Army Soldiers were 50,000 rounds or $2,300 at the beginning of the war. By the end they were shooting in excess of 200,000 bullets, about $10,000 to get a single kill. Where as is the average number of rounds used to kill one Vietcong by the United States snipers during this time was only 1.3 bullets or .27 cents.1 In that alone we see the need for snipers, effectiveness.

One of these individuals is Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock. Carlos Hathcock was a Marine Sniper during the Vietnam War. He has accomplished 95 confirmed kills, the highest to date in Marine Corps history. The sniper's victims never knew what hit them when his brand of whispering death struck. “They only heard the heavy bullet's impact if it missed.” 2

Hathcock has become famous for being credited with 93 confirmed kills in Vietnam; although, it is believed the true number of kills far exceeds one hundred. Hathcock even became famous among the Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army who developed a great fear from him and other like him. Unlike the Army a Marine Sniper is a hunter, outdoorsmen, survivor and marksmen. He stocks and follow every move of the man (or women) his is about to kill for days and maybe even weeks without ever being noticed. He earns each kill. One Shot-One Kill. This is the wording inscribed on the plaque Carlos Hathcock received from his commanding officer during his retirement ceremony.3 Despite the severity of his wounds from which he received when pulling fellow solders from a burring tank, it would ultimately be form Multiple Sclerosis (MS) that would bring Hathcock's extraordinary career to an end. In 1979 he was made to retire on 100% disability due to the advancing stages of the disease.

During an interview he shared an experience he had towards the end of his tour. He and his spotter* sat atop a tall hill. When in the distance his spotter acquired a young boy on his bicycle coming up the hill. As he came closer they could see AK-47’s and other types of machineguns hanging from the handle bars of his bike. The two men decided to “scare the boy away. Carlos with his .50 caliber single fire gun rested the crosshairs on the boys bike handles. When he shot the 2½ inch bullet struck the boys bike which made the boy tumble over and fall into the dirt face first. No sooner then the boy had gotten up he was holding an AK in his hands and with the quickness gained from many firefights, jammed a banana-curved magazine into the weapon. Then raised the gun. Just as he began to shoot, Carlos Hathcock dropped him dead. 4

Is shooting a twelve year old boy what would make a sniper famous?

After returning to active duty, Carlos 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 the tactics he learned while in the Vietnam War. Hathcock once said in an interview 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.5 This is now taught to the marine sniper corps.

Carlos also invented long rang shooting with a .50 caliber machine gun. As shown below.

This was a very unconventional way to hunt the enemy, being the gun is so heavy that a sniper couldn’t carry this up the hills of Vietnam, but Carlos had multiple kills like when he killed a Vietnamese from 2500 yards with this gun. This invention paved new ground for sniper that would later follow his steps. A man by Ronnie Barrett started a business called Barrett Firearms. Barrett Firearms Manufacturing is an American manufacturer of firearms and ammunition it was founded in 1982.

This may be another reason Carlos Hathcock may have become famous.

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." Carlos copied Hemingway's words on a piece of paper. "He got that right," Hathcock said. "It was the hunt, not the killing."6 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 do not get those bastards, then they are gonna kill a lot of these kids dressed up like Marines. That's the way I look at it."7 This is the view he had towards killing others. Saving his comrades. May also show to the public his valor and courage to put his life in danger to save others. Was it this courageous attitude that made him so publicized?

Another account of a sniper is in a book called Dear mom: A Snipers Vietnam. This is of a sniper writing letters to his mom which she compiles into a book for her son sniper as he is on tour. The letters Joseph Ward, one of the elite Marine Scout Snipers, wrote home that reveals a side of the Vietnam War rarely seen or heard of. Rather he is under nightly mortar attack in An Hoa, with a Marine company in the bullet-scarred jungle, on secret missions to Laos, or on dangerous two-man hunter-kills. Ward lived the war in a way few men did. He fought the enemy as few men did, every kill personal. In his book Ward talks about a man he served and fought with Chuck Mawhinney. Mawhinney who was a fellow sniper in his tour was credited with 101 confirmed kills. This was controversial at the time, as it was generally believed that the 93 confirmed kills by the legendary Carlos Hathcock was more than any other American sniper.8 Mawhinney's documented total was found to be 103 confirmed kills, with an additional 216 "probable kills. Mawhinney was then recognized as the USMC sniper with the most confirmed kills.9 This man one upped the famous Carlos Hathcock but didn’t receive any recognition for his amazing actions until someone else mention it. He later goes into talking about how and why he killed so many people. A great deal of his motivation is from a talk his gunny (boot camp leader) gave him while in boot camp. “We are at war, and the better trained a man was the better were his chances of survival will be”10 This man did not want the spot light; he just wanted to be alive by the end of the war. Does this motivation play into why he was never recognized?

John Culbertson describes the daily and dangerous life of a soldier fighting in a country where the enemy was indistinguishable from the citizens. How the enemy fought with determination, and thought nothing of using civilians as a shield. Though he was one of the top marksmen in 1st Marine Division Sniper School in Da Nang in March 1967 a class of just eighteen, chosen from the division's twenty thousand Marines, Culbertson knew that against the VC and the NVA, good training and experience could carry you just so far. But his company's mission was to find and engage the enemy, whatever the price. 11 These men fought day and night for survival. And their stories go on and on.

What made some of these snipers more famous then others is hard to discern. Was it the heroic actions? Courage? Could it have been about how hard one of their missions were? Some may think it’s the new editor’s choice, which has the look and attitude to fill the role for a good news story? Maybe not, but the real reason is in the training and way of living the sniper has. Before Carlos Hathcock the sniper was viewed like a step child, unwanted for the “cruelty”. Snipers despite their effectiveness, were called unsportsmanlike for how they shot people from the dark and didn’t revile themselves.

Snipers have many purposes, including demoralization, elimination of officers and other high ranking commanders, counter-sniping, defense, and reconnaissance, but their existence can be generally stated to the simple fact that they can shoot a target from a mile away.12

The training a sniper receives is to be a shadow, unseen and unheard. When they kill they kill for the men fighting with them, and to stop a threat to their country. The sniper has a target on him in ever war. Carlos had huge rewards placed on him if killed or captured. The reason why many snipers stay off the TV screens is because they have survived by staying in the dark, it is part of them, who they are will always be a sniper. Carlos’s story was a little different because it was a turning point for the sniper community for having a good face to the public. He showed just how difficult the profession really is. Living with the memories of every kill, the faces of men, women, and children every time they close their eyes. Since Carlos the TV screen hasn’t seen many snipers. This is because they do not want to expose themselves ,to “brag” about the ways they have saved others. It is an honor only truly seen by the worriers on the battlefront, those he protects.

1 Henderson, Charles. Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills. New York: Berkley, January 1, 1988.

2 Henderson, Charles. Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills. New York: Berkley, January 1, 1988.


4 Henderson, Charles. Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills. New York: Berkley, January 1, 1988 page 2

5Lantz, Gary. White Feather. America's 1st Freedom. National Rifle Association.

6 Henderson, Charles W. Silent Warrior 2003.

7 Sasser W. Charles. One Shot-One Kill. New York: Pocket Books, April 1, 1990.

8 Smith, Clint. Of myths and legends - Ranging Shots. Guns Magazine. 2011-04-16.

9 Ward, Joseph T. Dear Mom: A Sniper's Vietnam. Ballantine Books 1991.

10 Ibid. page 43.

11 Culbertson, John. A Sniper in the Arizona: 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines in the Arizona Territory. United States: Presidio Press, March 1991.

12 Gilbert Adrian. Sniper. United States: Ballantine Books, March 27 1990.

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