Meet Vietnam’s Most Aggressive Sniper, Carlos Hathcock

By: Mia Williams | Last updated: Jun 03, 2022

While the Vietnam War was a highly controversial conflict, perhaps even more controversial were the most celebrated figures in the war: the snipers. The most decorated sniper of the Vietnam War was a man named Carlos Norman Hathcock II.

During his service, Hathcock had an official 93 confirmed kills (kills witnessed by someone else). However, Hathcock himself estimates that he actually killed between 300 people and 400 people. Let’s learn more about a man who became a legend.

Did Carlos Hathcock Enjoy Killing?

In an interview with the Washington Post, Carlos Hathcock said that while he enjoyed “the hunt,” he didn’t enjoy killing people. In fact, he specifically said that if a person enjoyed killing other human beings, they were crazy. Nevertheless, Hathcock killed a lot of people.

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Hathcock described the act of killing enemy personnel as being in a “bubble” as he concentrated on hunting the enemy. While he was hunting, Hathcock would be soaked in sweat as ants crawled inside his clothing. He says that he even sometimes wet his pants because he wanted to remain completely still.

The Controversy of Snipers

Snipers have always been mythical figures. These soldiers are loners who do most of their work completely alone. Typically, a sniper is the outfit’s best shooter, and they’re experts at stalking the enemy and fieldcraft.

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For snipers, there is a kind of purity to their mission. They only kill the enemy and rarely harm innocent people such as children. However, they tend to be seen as coldblooded. Hathcock had no trouble justifying the work he did. He said he was doing what he was told to do and doing his job.

Invisible to the Naked Eye

Specifically, Hathcock called what he did “going hunting.” As a military policeman, Hathcock was bored with just doing his daily duties and made the decision to take on some extra tasks. In the early part of 1966, the Marines allowed these extracurricular activities. Hathcock called members of the Vietcong “hamburgers.”

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Hathcock even shot one soldier who was more than a mile and a half away. The Vietcong soldier couldn’t be seen via the naked eye, but Hathcock was able to kill him. He also killed several high-ranking Vietcong officers.

Carlos Hathcock's Early Years

Carlos Norman Hathcock II was born in Little Rock, Arkansas on May 20, 1942. After his parents got a divorce, Carlos was sent to live with one of his grandmothers at a young age. Living there, Hathcock taught himself to hunt and shoot.

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Part of the reason he needed to learn how to shoot was to help feed his family. However, the young boy also dreamed of joining the military. After all, his father served in World War I and gifted Carlos with his Mauser rifle.

Good Shooting is 90% Mental

When he was just 17 years old, Hathcock joined the U.S. Marines. The year was 1959, and by then, his shooting skills were already highly advanced. He won the Wimbledon Cup when he was 23 years old. This is the premier marksmanship championship in the U.S. Major Jim Land witnessed the Wimbledon victory and noted that shooting success is 90% mental. It’s all about a person’s ability to control their heartbeat, their mind, and their breathing.

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As Carlos was shooting at Wimbledon, there was a band playing, thousands of spectators, and even TV cameras. However, Carlos was completely unaffected by all of it.

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Hathcock Heads to Vietnam

In 1966, Carlos Hathcock found himself being deployed to serve in Vietnam. He began his career there as a military policeman, but that wasn’t enough for him. He wanted to serve in combat, and he quickly volunteered.

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Officers quickly noticed his stamina and skills, so he was soon transferred south of Da Nang to the 1st Marine Division Sniper Platoon. It was here that Hathcock earned the title of the most deadly sniper in the Vietnam War. His nickname was “White Feather” because he wore a white feather in his military bush cap, daring the enemy to spot him.

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Extraordinary Feats

In one famous story, Hathcock actually killed an enemy sniper through the man’s own rifle scope. As Hathcock crawled on his stomach, he moved very slowly until he finally saw a shimmer of light that he knew was his enemy’s scope. Shooting from 500 yards away, Hathcock shot the enemy soldier in the eye, killing him instantly. He also killed a woman who the military called “Apache.”

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Apache was famous for torturing Marines after she ambushed them. The Marines searched for the woman every day until one day she was spotted and killed by Hathcock. After Apache was killed, the Vietcong put a $30,000 bounty on Hathcock’s head. Along with other issues such as having to kill a Vietcong general (Hathcock described it as a “suicide mission”), the bounty led Hathcock to admit to burnout.

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Boredom Led to Reenlistment

After retiring to be with his wife and child in Virginia, Hathcock missed his beloved Marines, so a week into his retirement, he reenlisted. Hathcock took command of a group of snipers in 1969 and enjoyed his second tour.

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However, on September 16, Hathcock was aboard a personnel carrier that got struck by a mine. Hathcock got thrown from the vehicle and briefly lost consciousness, but when he woke up, he climbed back into the vehicle to pull seven Marines out before they burned to death. Because he was too wounded, Hathcock had to retire from combat. He was awarded the Purple Heart for being injured in combat.

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Health Issues Later in Life

After Vietnam, 27-year-old Hathcock walked with a limp and had limited use of his right arm. Nevertheless, he stayed in the Marines and helped found the Marine Corps Sniper School in Virginia. However, he was suffering from a lot of pain from his injuries and other health issues. Hathcock did two Vietnam tours, and he reportedly never took a day off willingly to rest. In fact, he volunteered so often that his commanding officer actually had to restrict him to his quarters. Retired Major Jim Land called Hathcock the best snipe he had ever known of.

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Nevertheless, Hathcock has never been known as a hero, and he was only known to his close friends, family, and neighbors. Later in his life, Hathcock developed multiple sclerosis, which is a degenerative nerve disease that currently does not have a cure. Between his illness and not being recognized by his beloved Marine Corps, Hathcock was left embittered and devastated.

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Hathcock After Vietnam

Carlos Hathcock ended up serving just under 20 years in the Marines. He became an alcoholic and eventually collapsed while teaching at the sniper school in 1979. He was forced to retire because he was losing feeling in his arms. Moreover, he couldn’t move his left foot. At this point, Hathcock became deeply depressed after being discharged from the Marines.

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However, he eventually started shark fishing. His new hobby served to help him overcome his depression. Carlos Hathcock died on February 22, 1999, from complications of multiple sclerosis.

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