Carlos Hathcock: The Legendary Marine Sniper

Updated on August 12, 2019
Larry Slawson profile image

Larry Slawson received his Masters Degree at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian History.

Carlos Hathcock in shooting position.
Carlos Hathcock in shooting position. | Source

Carlos Hathcock: Biographical Facts

Birth Name: Carlos Norman Hathcock II

Date of Birth: 20 May 1942

Place of Birth: Little Rock, Arkansas

Date of Death: 22 February 1999 (Fifty-Six Years of Age)

Place of Death: Virginia Beach, Virginia

Cause of Death: Complications from Multiple Sclerosis

Place of Burial: Woodlawn Memorial Gardens, Norfolk, Virginia

Spouse(s): Jo Winstead

Children: Carlos Norman Hathcock III (son)

Father: Carlos Hathcock

Mother: Agnes Hathcock

Occupation(s): Sniper in the United States Marine Corp

Military Service: 1959-1979 (First Marine Division)

Highest Rank Achieved: Gunnery Sergeant

Best Known For: Legendary Marine Sniper; 93 confirmed kills (although estimates show that he likely killed between 300 and 400 enemy troops/personnel)

Awards and Honors: Silver Star; Navy Commendation Medal, Purple Heart; Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal; Good Conduct Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Vietnam Service Medal; Gallantry Cross; Vietnam Campaign Medal.

Nickname(s): “White Feather”

Carlos Hathcock preparing to take a shot.
Carlos Hathcock preparing to take a shot. | Source

Hathcock's Early Life

Carlos Norman Hathcock was born on 20 May 1942 in Little Rock, Arkansas to Carlos and Agnes Hathcock. Born into extreme poverty, Hathcock became associated with hunting (and weapons) from an early age as it was the only way to provide food for his small family. Such associations were further bolstered by his father who had served in World War Two, and who later provided young Carlos with his first weapon, a Mauser Rifle, that he had found during the war. With his rifle in hand, Carlos was known to spend hours in the woods, acting out childhood fantasies of being a soldier; hunting imaginary Japanese soldiers in the surrounding area. From his earliest days, young Carlos was determined to join the Marines, and felt that a career in the military was the highest calling any man could aspire to.

Following the separation of his parents, Hathcock and his mother went to live with his grandmother in Wynne, Arkansas. At the age of twelve, Hathcock was given a .22-caliber J.C. Higgins rifle that proved invaluable in his hunting excursions. With a keen eye for stalking prey, along with constant practice (due to the necessity of hunting for food), Carlos's rifle skills reached expert levels within only a few years.

On his seventeenth birthday (20 May 1959), Carlos finally made his dream of joining the military a reality, and enlisted in the Marine Corps at his local recruiting office in Arkansas. It was here that the illustrious career of the legendary Marine sniper first began.

Early Military Career

After joining the Marine Corps, Hathcock's shooting skills continued to grow stronger with each passing year as he learned additional (more advanced) techniques to position himself and steady his aim. Before being deployed to Vietnam, Hathcock even entered (and won) a variety of shooting championships, securing numerous trophies with relative ease. By the age of 23, Hathcock's shooting skills were put to the ultimate test when he competed for the Wimbledon Cup, America's premier marksmanship championship. Beating out his other competitors, Hathcock returned home with his prestigious prize in hand; a testament to his remarkable skills and unparalleled talents with a rifle.

Unbeknownst to Hathcock, Major Jim Land (who would later help establish the Marine Corp Scout Sniper Program) was also present during his victory at the Wimbledon Cup. Land recognized Hathcock's potential immediately, and would later play a vital role in his transition to a sniper role only a year later.

Carlos Hathcock: Quick Facts

Quick Fact #1: Carlos Norman Hathcock II was born in Little Rock, Arkansas on 20 May 1942. After his parents separated (during the first twelve years of his life), Hathcock resided with his grandmother in Wynne, Arkansas for much of his childhood. Growing up in a poor family, Hathcock took to hunting at a very early age to help feed his family. Using a .22-caliber J.C. Higgins rifle, Hathcock would comb the woods around his home in search of food. This early exposure to guns helped young Hathcock tremendously for his future career in the Marines Corps. At the age of 17 (20 May 1959), young Hathcock enlisted at the Marine recruiting office; a decision that would have an enduring impact on the rest of his life.

Quick Fact #2: Before being deployed to South Vietnam, Hathcock met the love of his life, Jo Winstead. After receiving permission to marry her, the couple married on 10 November 1962 (Marine Corps official birthday). In his spare time, Hathcock also began to participate in shooting championships, including the famous Wimbledon Cup (which he won in 1965). In 1966, however, Hathcock found himself in route to South Vietnam, as hostilities between North and South Vietnam had begun to deteriorate rapidly. Upon arrival, Hathcock was first deployed as a military policeman, but was quickly recruited by Captain Edward James Land into a sniper platoon. Land, upon discovering that Hathcock had won the Wimbledon Cup only a year prior, was greatly impressed with the young marksman’s abilities, and strongly felt that his talents were much better spent with sniping rather than police duty.

Quick Fact #3: At a time when snipers were seen as outcasts in the United States military, Captain Land was determined to change the role of snipers in warfare, as he believed that every platoon should possess at least one sharpshooter. Interested in this new concept, the Marine Corp allowed Captain Land to showcase and test the abilities of sniper units; providing Land and his new sniper platoon numerous opportunities to prove themselves along the way. In only a short amount of time, Hathcock’s shooting skills were immediately put to the test against both the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army. In total, it is estimated that Hathcock killed between 300 to 400 enemy personnel during his tours in Vietnam, although only 93 were confirmed kills (confirmed by an acting third-party officer).

Quick Fact #4: For his actions, Hathcock quickly garnered a reputation amongst the Viet Cong and PAVN troops of the North, who referred to him as “White Feather Sniper” due to the white feather he kept inside the band of his hat. At one point, the North Vietnamese placed a $30,000 bounty on Hathcock, the highest of any bounty placed on American personnel during the war. As a result, many Marines in the area donned white feathers similar to Hathcock in order to confuse enemy snipers operating in the area.

Carlos Hathcock in later life.
Carlos Hathcock in later life. | Source

Quick Facts Continued...

Quick Fact #5: One of Hathcock’s most famous kills involved the clash with an enemy sniper known as “The Cobra.” Near Hill 55 (just southwest of Da Nang), Hathcock and his spotter, John Roland Burke, stalked the Cobra for several days after it was learned that he had killed several Marines in an attempt to lure Hathcock out of hiding (sources point out that the Cobra was sent to specifically kill Hathcock). After countless hours in the jungle, Hathcock caught a quick glint (light reflection from the enemy’s sniper scope) nearby. Already in the Cobra’s crosshairs, Hathcock was forced to rapidly take a shot. The shot became one of the most famous sniper kills of all time, as Hathcock’s bullet went straight into the Cobra’s scope, killing him instantaneously.

Quick Fact #6: Perhaps one of Hathcock’s most important contributions to the Vietnam War effort can be seen with his top secret mission to kill a North Vietnamese General. After being covertly inserted into the area, Hathcock crawled a distance of 1,500 yards; a feat that took four days and three nights to complete as he could only move a few inches at a time. With no sleep and being constantly bit by bugs, Hathcock slowly eased into position. Hathcock even came face-to-face with a deadly bamboo viper at one point in his trek, barely avoiding its deadly bite. After getting into a good position, however, Hathcock spotted the general as he exited his living quarters. Without hesitation, Hathcock fired a single shot into the general’s chest, killing him on impact. With enemy soldiers hot on his trail, Hathcock made a rapid escape to his extraction point without ever being spotted or wounded.

Quick Fact #7: After completing his tour of duty in 1967, Hathcock returned to Vietnam in 1969 and took command of another platoon of snipers. However, shortly into his tour, Hathcock’s career with the Marine Corps came to an abrupt end alongside the famed Highway 1. On board an LVT-5, Hathcock’s vehicle was struck by an anti-tank mine that engulfed the vehicle in fire. Suffering severe wounds and burns, Hathcock still managed to pull seven other Marines from the burning wreckage before passing out from his injuries. Hathcock and his fellow Marines were quickly evacuated to the hospital ship, USS Repose, then to a naval hospital in Tokyo. Hathcock’s burns were so severe, however, that he was later transferred to the burn center at Brooke Army Medical Center (San Antonio, Texas). Although Hathcock remained in the Marines, he would never serve in combat again due to the extensive, lifelong injuries he sustained from the explosion.

Quick Fact #8: Following his rehabilitation, Hathcock helped to establish the Marine Corps “Scout Sniper School” at Quantico, Virginia. Here, Hathcock helped to train future Marine Corp snipers for combat, while continuing to suffer extensively from his prior injuries. In 1975, Hathcock suffered another setback, however, with the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. After his health continued to decline in the months and years that followed, Hathcock received a “permanent disability separation” from the Marine Corps, forcing him into an unwanted medical discharge.

Quick Fact #9: After suffering from deep depression (and having his wife nearly leave him), Hathcock was able to overcome his separation from the Marines by picking up hobbies to keep himself busy. Shark fishing, in particular, became a particular favorite of Hathcock as it offered him both a unique and difficult challenge each time he fished. In his spare time, Hathcock also aided numerous police departments and military units (most famously, SEAL Team Six) in their courses for sniping. Hathcock tragically died at the age of fifty-six after suffering from complications resulting from multiple sclerosis. He was buried at Woodlawn Memorial Gardens in Norfolk, Virginia.

Marine Corps Emblem
Marine Corps Emblem | Source

Fun Facts About Carlos Hathcock

Fun Fact #1: When Carlos was still a teenager, he dropped out of high school to work at the Little Rock concrete company in order to better support his family.

Fun Fact #2: Hathcock knew that he wanted to be a Marine from the time he was a young boy, and often pretended to be a Marine in the woods of Arkansas.

Fun Fact #3: In another notable moment of his career as a sniper, Hathcock was able to successfully kill a notorious enemy interrogator known as the “Apache.” The Apache was well-known across Vietnam due to their brutal torture methods employed against American troops. Their death served as a tremendous morale booster for American troops.

Fun Fact #4: Hathcock held the record for the longest sniper kill after taking a nearly 2,500 yard shot with an M2 .50-caliber Browning Machinegun.

Fun Fact #5: For his efforts in saving so many Marines aboard the LVT-5 that nearly claimed his own life, Hathcock was awarded the Silver Star in the 1990s, several decades after the event transpired.

Fun Fact #6: Hathcock’s son, Carlos Hathcock III, also joined the Marine Corps and retired as a Gunnery Sergeant. He also served as a member of the “Board of Governors” within the Marine Corps “Distinguished Shooters Association.”

Fun Fact #7: Multiple movie scenes have been inspired by the actions of Hathcock, including both “Sniper” and the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”

“The most deadly thing on a battlefield is one well-aimed shot.”

— Sgt. Carlos Hathcock

Sniper Quotes

Quote #1: “The most deadly thing on a battlefield is one well-aimed shot.” – Sgt. Carlos Hathcock

Quote #2: “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.” – Sgt. Carlos Hathcock

Quote #3: “One man can change the world with a bullet in the right place.” – Malcom McDowell

Quote #4: “People tell me I saved hundreds and hundreds of people. But I have to tell you: it’s not the people you saved that you remember. It’s the ones you couldn’t save. Those are the ones you talk about. Those are the faces and situations that stay with you forever.” -- Chris Kyle

Quote #5: "Bolt actions speak louder than words." -- Craig Roberts

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Carlos Hathcock Books

Chandler, Roy F. and Norman A. Chandler. White Feather: Carlos Hathcock, USMC Scout Sniper. New York, New York: Iron Brigade Publishing, 1997.

Henderson, Charles. Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills. New York, New York: The Berkely Publishing Group, 1986.

Conclusion

To this day, Carlos Hathcock continues to remain one of the greatest snipers of all time. Even the late Chris Kyle – a legend in his own right – acknowledged the greatness of Hathcock and his work as a sniper. Hathcock’s dedication and commitment to duty helped to save countless American lives during the war in Vietnam, and continues to inspire snipers and servicemen today (worldwide). Although his life was tragically cut short (from complications arising from multiple sclerosis), his legend continues to live on in the hearts and minds of others.

Works Cited:

Images / Photographs:

Stillwell, Blake. "This Marine Was The 'American Sniper' Of The Vietnam War." Military.com. Accessed March 21, 2019. https://www.military.com/marine-corps-birthday/carlos-hathcock-famous-marine-corps-sniper.html.

Wikipedia contributors, "Carlos Hathcock," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Carlos_Hathcock&oldid=884167496 (accessed March 21, 2019).

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Larry Slawson

    Comments

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      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        7 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        You are a great history teacher. Thank you. Never heard of him before.

      • Erudite Scholar profile image

        Jeff Zod 

        7 months ago from Nairobi

        Hi Larry,

        I am so glad you wrote it. I really enjoyed it. You have outdone yourself as usual.

      • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

        Larry Slawson 

        7 months ago from North Carolina

        @Jeff I'm so glad you enjoyed! Been wanting to do an article on Carlos Hathcock for quite some time. He truly is the greatest sniper of all time. I recently read a biography on him, and it was absolutely fascinating. He did some amazing things.

      • Erudite Scholar profile image

        Jeff Zod 

        7 months ago from Nairobi

        I love this article.Snipers have always fascinated me.Carlos Hathcock is one of the greatest snipers all time.

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