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No author has ever written a book totally alone—somewhere along the line, he had assistance. In most cases, that assistance has been great. This book is no exception.
First, I thank Raymond B. Lech, a fellow author who introduced my work to Sol Stein and then guided me over the first hurdles of being published. I will be eternally grateful to Ray for that.
Thanks to my editor, Bill Fryer, for boiling down more than seven hundred pages of manuscript and leaving the content and focus of Carlos Hathcock's story intact.
And thank you, Sol Stein, for your faith in me as a writer.
Special thanks go to Lt. Col. David Willis, a distinguished marksman and one of the finest Marines I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He had faith in my integrity and introduced me to Carlos Hathcock. He assured Carlos that I was a man of honor and worthy of his trust. Without that, I am certain that Carlos would never have consented to reveal to me his most private and deeply held personal experiences.
Thanks are not enough for Maj. E. J. Land. He gave me many, many hours of his time, assisted me in my research,
and opened his private library to me. But above all, he opened his soul and let me see a very personal pan of his life. He told me about it in detail and withheld nothing that I requested.
Also, I cannot forget Sgt. Maj. David Sommers, M. Gunnery Sgt. Ron McAbee, and David Holden, who freely gave bits and pieces of their past to me.
The Historical Division at Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, also provided invaluable assistance, especially Ben Frank of the Marine Corps Oral History Branch and Ev Englander of the Marine Corps Historical Center Library.
I thank Lt. Col. Rick Stepien for his assistance, tolerance, and encouragement.
I also say thank you to my family. I occupied their lives with my book for more than a year and a half. I denied them a real family life while I spent all my time, that was otherwise theirs, researching and writing and rewriting.
Last, and most important, I thank Gunnery Sgt. Carios Hathcock. He refused me nothing: he fed me, gave me his bed, and called me his friend. He shared countless hours with me, opening his heart, telling me the stories now bound in this volume. It is a great honor to know him and a privilege to call him my friend.
For all the snuffies of the Corps, and to the memory of my brother Marines, Tony, Sammy, and Iron Mike
To be a nationally recognized shooting champion takes a special kind of individual. To be effective on the battlefield as a sniper requires even more extraordinary qualities.
Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock is one of those rare individuals who has carved a niche in Marine Corps history by being both.
It takes a special kind of courage to be alone: to be alone with your thoughts; to be alone with your fears; to be alone with your doubts. This courage is not the superficial brand stimulated by the flow of adrenalin. Neither is it the courage that conies from the fear that others may think one a coward.
It is the courage born of honor.
Honor on the battlefield is a sniper's ethic. He shows it by the standards and discipline with which he lives life in combat. By the decency he shows his comrades. And by the rules he adheres to when meeting the enemy.
The sniper does not hate the enemy; he respects him or her as a quarry. Psychologically, the only motives that will sustain the sniper is the knowledge that he is doing a necessary job and the confidence that he is the best person to do it. On the battlefield hate will destroy any man—and a sniper quicker than most.
The sniper is the big-game hunter of the battlefield, and he needs all the skills of the woodsman, marksman, hunter, and poacher. He must possess the field craft to be able to position himself for a killing shot, and he must be able to effectively place a single bullet into his intended target.
Gunnery Sergeant Hathcock was all of these things with a full measure of the silent courage and quiet optimism of a true champion.
The war in Viet Nam was ideally suited to sniper warfare. However, the rules of engagement and a lack of understanding of the sniper's role made his effective employment a constant struggle. The struggle continues.
Sadly, there are few officers in the United States Armed Forces today who understand even the basic rudiments of marksmanship, much less sniping. Thus diey cannot possibly understand the potential of this flexible, versatile, and cost efficient fighting asset. Sniping has a history extending from the Renaissance achievements of Leonardo da Vinci who, standing on the walls of besieged Florence, picked off enemy soldiers with a rifle of his own design and of Benvenuto Cellini who, during the siege of Rome in 1527, sniped the enemy commander, the Constable de Bourbon, to the modern era and Hathcock's 93 confirmed kills in Viet Nam, which included high-ranking commanders.
At the beginning of every conflict in this century there has been a slowly dawning realization of the need for snipers, and at the end of every conflict there has been an effort to put that genii back in its bottle. Not only has the officer corps showed little understanding of the support and employment techniques necessary to the successful deployment of the weapons system we call a sniper, but because of weak stomachs, or a desire to conciliate others with weak stomachs, they have attempted to suggest that sniper warfare is morally wrong and unworthy of a role in the United States Armed Forces. The only reply to that must be that it is doubtful if it is either reasonable or moral to import the standards of Hollywood westerns, in which the good guys never shoot first, onto the battlefield.
I'm comfortable in my mind that there is little hope for understanding from the old guard. However, I pray that the young officers of today will read this book with an inquisitive mind. I hope that they will look at the requirements of the modern battlefield and see the great potential of the sniper system. Hopefully, they will see that the success and effectiveness of the sniper is limited only by one's imagination.
There can be little doubt that Gunnery Sergeant Hathcock was effective in his role as a sniper. What is not widely known is that he became the focal point of a staff effort to legitimize sniping.
I was the marksmanship coordinator in the Office of Training at Headquarters, United States Marine Corps, from 1975 through 1977. During this period we staffed a proposal for a permanent table of organization and table of equipment for the sniper unit.
There was a strong effort at this time to delete the sniper program from the Marine Corps. As a result, I conducted a personal lobbying program that extended from the handball courts to the briefing rooms; from the Officer's Club at Quantico to seminars on urban warfare. There, Carlos became the symbol of what could be.
Carlos's story was told again and again. It added credibility to the too often impersonal and unimaginative thought processes used by a major staff. Carlos Hathcock not only sparked but inflamed the imaginations of many
who would have removed all traces of sniping from the Marine Corps. His real-life heroics served as a demonstration of what could be accomplished with proper training, equipment, and leadership.
Eventually, through the efforts of many men, a permanent sniper table of organization and table of equipment within every Marine Division was established, and approval was given for what has become the finest school on the art of sniping in the world. Without Hathcock's story and without his courage, perhaps none of this would have come to pass.
E. J. LAND Major, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)
This book is based upon the personal recollections of the participants and upon the official Marine Corps records kept at the Marine Corps Historical Center in Washington, D.C. Operational orders, situation reports, and after action reports provide the historical framework for the story tells. As for the actions of the enemy, whatever was not observed by American eyes was reconstructed from the evidence found after battle. And in specific instances spectacular windfalls came my way: the notebook of the "Apache woman," in which she kept a record of her day-to-day movements and observations and in which she reports on her encounters with the American enemy, was recovered after her death and lent me by a Marine who was on Hill 55.
In a few places I have taken the liberty of inventing dialogue for Hathcock's North Vietnamese and Viet Cong opponents. Those are the only elements in the book that cannot be fully justified by a careful examination of the evidence. Everything else has been made factually accurate to the best of my ability.
There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men hng enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.
DUE PHO SHOOTING GALLERY
A GENTLE BREEZE lustled the white feather in the 's floppy hat as he watched the land below through the telescopic gun sight. The soft stir of air had swept up die hill from the rice paddies and, just moments earlier, had touched a twelve-year-old Vietnamese boy whose khaki shirt hung loose and wet across his skinny back and who struggled to keep his heavily laden bicycle upright.
It was a mild February afternoon in 1961, and Sgt. Carlos Norman Hathcock n sat cross-legged behind his M-2 .50-cali-ber machine gun. A year and a half earlier, at Camp Perry, Ohio, the slim, twenty-four-year-old Marine had won the U.S. 1,000-Yard High-Power Rifle Championship. Now he took aim from the southern finger of a solitary peak in South Vietnam.
He squinted as he stared through the eight-power Unertl sniper scope mounted on the top, right-hand comer of the machine gun's receiver. His spotter, a darkly tanned, shirtkss Marine staff sergeant named Charles A. Roberts, silently crouched next to him and looked through an M-49 twenty-power spotting scope, watching for the enemy.
The brim of Carlos Hathcock's faded camouflage bush hat sagged over die dull green tube of die telescopic sight as he observed a distant speck wobbling toward him up the dirt road.
Slowly the boy on the bicycle grew larger in Hathcock's gun sight, and a troubled expression crept across Hathcock's narrow, suntanned face. He saw a number of rifles—four dangling from the handlebars, two on each side, and three more tied sideways beneath the bicycle's seat. A dirty, green haversack hung from the center of the handlebars, bulging fat with hundreds of rifle cartridges packed in bandoleers or loaded in a dozen banana-curved magazines that protruded from beneath the flap of the old canvas pack. This boy was not just another kid on a bike; he was a Viet Cong resupply "mule," carrying arms and ammunition to an enemy patrol. When night fell, that patrol would turn the rifles that this underfed, twelve-year-old boy now struggled to deliver, directly on Hathcock's brother Marines.
Hathcock never wanted to kill men, much less children. He knew, however, that this was no ordinary child. Children in war grow up quickly. And Marines die as fast from bullets fired by twelve-year-old boys as they do from bullets fired by twelve-year-old boys as they do from bullets fired by men.
The bicycle teetered closer and closer. The sniper's grip tightened on the gun's two wooden handles. His thumbs rested firmly on the butterfly-shaped trigger, which was mounted between the handles at the gun's butt. He followed the youth until the boy came abeam him, allowing for a clean, two thousand-yard, broadside shot.
Hathcock moved his scope's cross hairs onto the front wheel and fork of the boy's bike. He pressed his thumbs slowly down on the trigger and sent a heavy (two and-one-half-inch, seven hundred-grain) bullet ripping into the bicycle's framework.
The boy somersaulted over the handlebars and crashed into the orange dust that covered the road. His deadly cargo scattered, and Hathcock smiled. Maybe now this boy would run away and leave the work of death to men.
That hope rapidly vanished. The shaken lad grabbed the nearest automatic rifle and, with a quickness gained from many firelights, jammed a banana-curved magazine into the weapon. Then he raised the gun. Just as he began to shoot, Carles Hathcock dropped him dead.
A Marine patrol walked down to the road and took the load of enemy rifles and ammo. Vietnamese farmers who had been working in the nearby rice paddies carried the boy's body away.
As he always did after engaging the enemy, Hathcock jotted down the facts of the incident in a dog-eared, green notebook—his "sniper log"—that he carried in the slanted breast pocket of his camouflage shirt. Later that evening, he would describe the "kill" in a situation report that would be sent to his new officer in charge, Maj. D. E. Wight.
Hathcock didn't need to take notes, however, to keep that experience forever vivid.
He and Roberts looked over the sandbag wall and watched the villagers carry the boy's limp body toward the mud-and-rice-straw huts that stood a few hundred feet away. The broken bike lay unattended on the roadside. It would be gone by morning.
The sniper's dark eyes followed the road back toward the mountain passes—the many corridors of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. No doubt those weapons had been boxed in China and had ridden the rails through Nanning and Ningming, across the North Vietnamese border to Lang Son, Kep, and into Hanoi. There women took them from their boxes and repacked the rifles into smaller lots for their trip southward to the Mu Gia Pass, the main funnel from North Vietnam to the Ho Chi Minh Trail and to South Vietnam's combat zones.
During the United States involvement in the Southeast Asian conflict, American forces divided South Vietnam into three zones of combat. In the far south, Saigon rested in the heart of the III Corps Tactical Zone—the Mekong Delta lowlands; Camau Peninsula (later designated IV Corps); and the hill country north of Bien Hoa Air Base. The n Corps encircled the vast Central Highlands with Dac Son and Da Lat bordering the south and Pleiku and Phu Cat the north.
From the 17th parallel—the cease-fire and demarcation line of July 1954, popularly called the DMZ—to the Central Highlands' northern ridges is I Corps.
In 1966 and '67,1 Corps was a tough place for an American fighting man to live. Primarily controlled by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces, that combat area's western border blended into Laotian jungles where the Ho Chi Minh Trail's three main arteries flooded arms and freshly trained troops into Vietnam's war.
At the point where the southernmost route of the Ho Chi Minh Trail enters I Corps, the Sihanouk Trail joins it, giving the Viet Cong, or VC, a second supply flow of Soviet- and Chinese-built arms and ammunition, landed into Cambodia via the Gulf of Siara and carried by elephant, by train, and on human backs into Laos for entry into Vietnam.
A few kilometers inland from where the South China Sea washes Vietnam's east coast, at a place called Due Pho—I Corps' southern-most tip—a high, lone hill overlooks miles of farm fields and hundreds of mud-and-straw huts. Off to the west steep mountains rise and, between the peaks, streams and rivers flow into broad valleys that spread like fingers on an outstretched hand, feeding water to this rich, rice-growing countryside.
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