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. 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. 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, for the name “White Feather Sniper” assigned to him by the North Vietnamese Army.
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. 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. When Hathcock saw a flash of light (light reflecting off the enemy sniper’s scope) in the bushes, he fired at it, shooting through the scope and killing the sniper. 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. Given the flight time of rounds at long ranges, the snipers could have simultaneously killed one another. 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.
The North Vietnamese Army placed a bounty of $30,000 on Hathcock’s life for killing so many of their men. Rewards put on US snipers by the NVA typically ranged from $8 to $2,000. Hathcock held the record for highest bounty and killed every Vietnamese marksman who sought it. 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. 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.
Hathcock only once removed the white feather from his bush hat while deployed in Vietnam. 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. He was not informed of the details of the mission until he accepted it. This effort took four days and three nights, without sleep, of constant inch-by-inch crawling. Hathcock said he was almost stepped on as he lay camouflaged with grass and vegetation in a meadow shortly after sunset. 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. As the general exited his encampment, Hathcock fired a single shot that struck the general in the chest, killing him. 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 NVA troops doubled their attacks in the area, apparently in retaliation for their general being killed and leading to an increase in American casualties.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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.” 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.”
Thank you “The Chive” for a great article!
Marine Sniper Carlos Hathcock a.k.a. The White Feather Sniper (4 Photos)