Meet the legendary marksman each Marine sniper trains to be
- Modern Marine Corps scout snipers must study their history to learn from the stellar snipers who stood before them.
- Examples include Charles Mawhinney, Eric England and Carlos Hathcock, three of the deadliest snipers in the Marine Corps in the Vietnam War.
- These three snipers had nearly 300 confirmed kills, but what makes them examples of Marines today is more than their ability in combat.
- You can find more stories on the Business Insider homepage.
Marine Corps snipers hit the hearts of their enemies in the jungles of Vietnam. In particular, the exploits of three snipers are legendary.
Charles “Chuck” Mawhinney, Eric England, and Carlos Hathcock had nearly 300 confirmed kills combined and unconfirmed. They were masters of their craft, and their combat skills, as well as their quiet professionalism and humility, made these men role models for the Navy snipers that followed.
“The Marines who go forward and work to bring in 120% and let their awards speak for themselves are the guys we encourage [Marine snipers] to emulate, “Staff Sgt. Joshua Coulter, a Marine Corps Scout Sniper instructor, recently told Insider.
As skillful shooters capable of shooting precision fire from a distance, snipers excel in keeping watch and gathering information, eliminating enemy officers and demoralizing opposing forces, among other things.
In many conflicts in U.S. history, Marine Corps snipers have proven to be a valuable asset on the battlefield. But when the fighting ended, the corps repeatedly failed to develop the permanent programs necessary to maintain the capabilities. That finally changed with the Vietnam War.
“Vietnam was the basis for our modern program,” said Coulter. He stated that the remarkable skills of Marines like Mawhinney, England, and Hathcock during the conflict highlighted the value of snipers in a very visible way.
“The only reason we still have a sniper program today is because of the people who came before us, the quiet pros who finished their assessments, lowered the range and came home,” said Coulter.
They did not try to put their names in the legends of the corps, but by giving everything, these snipers left their mark on history.
Gunnery Sgt. Carlos N. Hathcock:
In Vietnam, Hathcock had 93 confirmed enemy killings and several hundred unconfirmed. He also set the record for the longest combat shot in 1967 at 2,500 meters – a distance of about 1.4 miles. The record lasted until the early 2000s.
The native Arkansas-American was sent to Vietnam as a military policeman in 1966. However, having previously distinguished himself as a marksman, Hathcock was recruited by Edward James Land, another talented Navy sniper who had been tasked with building a sniper program from scratch to counteract enemy irregular war tactics.
As a sniper, Hathcock caused the enemy forces so much pain that the North Vietnamese Army placed him on a $ 30,000 bounty and placed him in the crosshairs of enemy elite snipers.
One of his most memorable battles in Vietnam was with an infamous sniper named “Cobra” who was sent to kill him. The enemy sniper had deliberately killed Marines near Hathcock’s base of operations to get him out. It worked, but not the way Cobra intended.
When the two skilled snipers stalked each other, Cobra made a mistake. He moved to a position facing the sun, causing his scope to reflect the light and reveal his position. Hathcock fired, shot cleanly through the enemy’s telescopic sight, and killed him.
The nature of the shot suggested that if Hathcock hadn’t seen the glare or had pulled the trigger faster than Cobra, his enemy would have shot him instead.
Hathcock’s famous killings also included a woman nicknamed “Apache” who tortured captured Marines and a North Vietnamese general. He succeeded in the latter on a secret one-man mission deep into enemy territory.
For many years, Hathcock was believed to have the most confirmed kills of any sniper in the Marine Corps. According to Charles Henderson’s book “Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills”, however, this was never important to him.
“You can take these numbers and give them to someone who takes care of them,” Hathcock reportedly told a fellow Marine during a discussion about his killings.
“I like to shoot and I love to hunt. But I’ve never enjoyed killing anyone,” he said. “It’s my job. If I don’t get these bastards, they’re going to kill a lot of these kids dressed up like marines. That’s how I see it.”
Hathcock left Vietnam in 1969 after sustaining severe burns while rescuing Marines from a fiery vehicle that hit a mine.
Although his injuries prevented him from serving as he had before, he remained active in the sniper community and gave instructions even when his health failed later in life.
Hathcock died in 1999 after a long and painful battle with multiple sclerosis, but his memory lives on. Though he doesn’t hold the record for the most confirmed kills as previously believed, Hathcock is widely considered to be one of the best snipers in Corps history.
Master Sgt.Eric R. England:
England is one of two Marine Corps snipers to have more confirmed kills than Hathcock during the Vietnam War, although not much is known about his service.
Before the war he had shown himself to be an excellent marksman in shooting competitions. Once in Vietnam as a sniper with the 3rd Marine Division, he continued to excel. In just seven months before he had to be medically evacuated, he had 98 confirmed kills, possibly hundreds more unconfirmed.
The Georgian native never really spoke about his ministry or his killings, according to a 2011 report by the Union County Historical Society. His record, as was the case with Hathcock, was relayed by Marine Corps officers familiar with his performance on the battlefield.
England shared a bit of its experience during an interview with the Marine Corps in 2017, just a year before his death.
“Regarding Vietnam, like all wars, it doesn’t feel good, especially with some of the jobs you have,” declared England that shooting people in war is different from shooting targets in competition, even though snipers do can’t focus on it.
“If you get that one shot, you have to put yourself in another world,” he said. “You’re trying to put yourself in a little bubble. You cut out the world and just focus on the things you have to do to get a good shot because if you don’t, you could be dead.”
He told the Marine Corps that he wasn’t bragging about his killings because he wasn’t looking for fame. However, he said that he considered himself better than the average Marine because a good shot makes a better Marine and he could shoot better than most of the others.
Despite its legendary status, England is not well known outside of the US sniper community, but Hathcock once said, “Eric is a great man, a great marksman and a great marine.”
Sgt. Charles “Chuck” B. Mawhinney:
Mawhinney spent nearly a year and a half in Vietnam, but when he returned to Oregon in 1969 he kept the details of his service a secret. No one outside of the small circle of Marines he served with knew the truth: he was the deadliest sniper in Marine Corps history.
Mawhinney’s story was not told for two decades, but in 1991 friend and former Navy sniper Joseph Ward published a book attributing 101 confirmed kills to Mawhinney, a new record.
Ward’s book triggered an investigation into the Marine Corps’ records and it was found that the number he reported was incorrect. It turns out Mawhinney actually had 103 confirmed kills. He also had an additional 216 “likely” kills.
With the release of Ward’s “Dear Mom: A Sniper’s Vietnam” and the end of Mawhinney’s quiet life in anonymity, this outstanding sniper came out of the shadows and shared parts of his story publicly.
In one particularly intense battle, Mawhinney deployed 16 bullets into 16 enemy troops in just thirty seconds, and he did it in the dark.
“I’ve got 16 rounds off that night as fast as I could fire the gun,” Mawhinney said in an interview for a documentary about Marine Scout snipers. “Each of them was a headshot, dead center. I could see the bodies floating down the river.”
Vietnam, like many, was hell for Mawhinney, but he extended his business trip knowing he had the skills to keep his fellow Marines alive.
One of the things that haunted Mawhinney to Vietnam was an enemy soldier who escaped after an armourer adjusted his rifle. He fired several shots. Everyone missed it.
“It’s one of the few things that bothers me about Vietnam,” he previously told the Los Angeles Times. “I can’t help but think about how many people he might have killed later, how many of my friends, how many Marines.”
Mawhinney left Vietnam after being diagnosed with battle fatigue. He’s still alive and his M40 rifle is on display in the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
The only U.S. military sniper with more confirmed kills than Mawhinney in Vietnam was Army sniper Adelbert Waldron, with 109 confirmed kills.
Examples of modern naval snipers
31. MEU Scout Snipers during a live fire drill
US Marine Corps
There is a lot that modern marine scout snipers can learn from legends like Mawhinney, England, and Hathcock. For Staff Sgt. Coulter, who teaches future Navy snipers, the most impressive attention to detail has been to the smallest detail.
“Your attention to detail has been unparalleled,” he said.
“These guys were hand loading their own laps back then,” continued Coulter. “They went to great depths to understand the equipment they used, the ammunition they used, the effects of their surroundings.”
“They understood that walking into someone else’s backyard would be inherently at a disadvantage,” he said, explaining that they thought carefully about how they camouflaged themselves, what routes they took, what positions they took and so on.
“They went into such small details and that was kind of a definition of success for them,” he told Insider.
As part of their training, Marine Corps scout snipers must take the time to study their history and the stellar snipers who came before them. It’s a reminder, Coulter stated, that “the only thing that kept our program alive was performance.”
Snipers proved their worth during the Vietnam War. It is said that for every enemy killed, the average infantryman issued 50,000 bullets. For snipers, their “one shot, one kill” approach averaged 1.3 rounds per kill.
And snipers still make a difference today.