February 23, 2008

February 23 | Carlos Hathcock

May 20, 1942 – February 23, 1999: Age 56

"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." — Ernest Hemingway

Carlos Hathcock's comment on Hemingway's words were, "He got that right." By the time he was 27, it is estimated that Hathcock had killed nearly 400 people, all during the years 1966-69. His first was a man laying landmines, whom he spotted while on patrol about 400 yards away.

Fourteen kills later he was assigned to the Marine sniper corps, and began a career that would see the North Vietnamese bounty on his head go from the standard 8 dollars for an ordinary US sniper to $30,000. He was legendary on both sides, known to the Vietnamese as Long Tra'ng du'Kich, or the "White Feather Sniper" (because of the white feather he wore in his hat, see above).

One day he was hunting a man who had already killed several Marines, and had probably been sent specifically to kill him. When Hathcock saw the flash of light reflecting off the man's scope, he fired at it. The bullet went through the man's scope and entered his head through the eye, killing him. This incident spawned many literary and film imitations, as well as two episodes of Mythbusters.

During one mission, he was "inserted" into enemy territory in order to shoot a North Vietnamese general. He had to crawl over a thousand meters of field, and it took four days and three nights, without sleep, of constant inch-by-inch crawling. At one point one soldier nearly stepped on him as he lay camouflaged with vegetation in a meadow. He was also approached by a bamboo viper, who fortunately did not choose to bite him. Unfortunately for the general who, when he came into the field to stretch his legs, was hit in the head by a single shot. Hathcock then had to slowly crawl back instead of running, while the camp was in an uproar and soldiers were searching for him.

Hathcock said that he survived in his work because he could "get in the bubble" — that is, move 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.

In 1969 he was badly burned when the vehicle he was riding on hit an anti-tank mine. He pulled seven other men out of the flaming wreck before being evacuated to hospital with burns over 90 per cent of his body. The injuries were such that he could not resume active duty, so he turned to training, first fellow soldiers, then later on police counter-snipers. He loved teaching as much as he loved shooting.

In the 1970s he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and had to retire just 55 days short of his full 20 years in the service. He died of complications from the disease in 1999.

"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 we got dressed up like Marines. That's just the way I see it."

And hooray! there is an extended interview with him viewable on YouTube. Hathcock appears after the first minute. When he uses the word "hamburger" he is referring to the enemy soldiers. The camera stays very steady on his face, I find it fascinating to watch it while he talks about his art. You will also learn a lot about sniping.

Sources: Wikipedia, Tribute to Gunny Hathcock

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