Carlos Hathcock was probably the sniper most feared by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) because of his extraordinary ability. His legend is such that there is an award named after him; the Carlos Hathcock Award is given to the Marine who does the most to promote marksmanship. He led an incredible life and was dedicated to his role as a shooter; so much so that he had a vanity license plate that read SNIPER on his vehicle in Virginia. While Hathcock specialized in ending the lives of enemies quickly, he succumbed to the slow, lingering and agonizing death brought on by multiple sclerosis in 1999.
Early Life & Exploits in Vietnam
Hathcock was born in North Little Rock, Arkansas on May 20, 1942. He showed an aptitude for marksmanship from a very early age and hunted for food aged just 10; his weapon of choice on that occasion was a JC Higgins 22-caliber. He dropped out of high school aged 15 and worked as a concrete constructor until he was old enough to enlist in the United States Marine Corp in his hometown on his 17th birthday.
He quickly qualified as a marksman by scoring ‘expert’ level in a boot camp test in San Diego. In 1962, he broke the ‘A’ range record with a remarkable score of 248 out of 250. He even won the Wimbledon Cup, a tournament to find the best 1,000-yard shooter, in 1965 before volunteering for combat the following year. His abilities were well known, so it was no surprise that he was rapidly recruited as a sniper in the Vietnam War.
It didn’t take long for his colleagues to recognize Hathcock’s special talent and he was given the nickname ‘Gunny.’ The official kill total attributed to him was 93; that means there were witnesses to 93 of his kills. In reality, he probably killed between 300 and 400 enemy troops during the Vietnam War.
He was stationed at Hill 55 in the south of Da Nang and earned another nickname, ‘white feather’ (the NVA called him Long Trang) because he always wore a white feather in his hat. It was a way to dare the enemy to spot him and take a shot. Incidentally, the Springfield Armory M25 White Feather is named after Hathcock. He gained a reputation as a sniper of incredible accuracy, and the NVA feared him so much that they placed a $30,000 bounty on his head; not that it bothered him.
The White Feather’s Greatest Shot
Hathcock always preferred to strike in the early morning and early evening; timing was crucial to him as he often volunteered for missions he knew next to nothing about. He once said that “first light and last light are the best times to strike.” Hathcock noticed that the NVA were relaxed and inattentive in the morning after a good night’s rest. In the evening, they were usually tired and not paying much attention to detail.
For Hathcock, the best shot he made was the execution of a sadistic NVA female commander called Apache. Unlike other kill squad leaders who executed enemies without fuss or ceremony, Apache tortured POWs in the cruelest ways imaginable. She routinely killed men in and around Hathcock’s unit. One day, a private was captured, had his eyelids cut off, his fingernails removed and was castrated before he died. Hathcock tried to save him but got there too late. At that stage, he was determined to kill Apache at any cost.
One day, he got his chance when along with a colleague, he spotted the NVA torturer urinating and took her out from a distance of around 700 yards. Hathcock admitted that he shot her again for good measure. Although that shot ranks as number one in the White Feather’s personal favorite kills, it pales in comparison to a couple of his other kills regarding difficulty.