He may be the most famous sniper of all time, but American Sniper Chris Kyle didn’t believe he was the best of all time. As Kyle told Conan O’Brien, there’s one Vietnam era sniper who stands out as “the best”.
“Our optics and such are so much more advanced than even the guys in Vietnam. You’ve got Carlos Hathcock, who I think is the greatest sniper of all time. I have more kills than he does, that doesn’t mean I’m better than he is,” said Kyle. “I was just put in a position where I had more opportunities.”
Just how badass was Carlos Hathcock? We’ll let the guys from Sgt. Grit explain:
On May 20th, 1959, at 17 years of age, Carlos N. Hathcock II fulfilled his childhood dream by enlisting in the United States Marine Corps. His ability as a marksman was soon recognized by the instructors on the rifle range at Camp Pendleton where he was undergoing recruit training. Later, while based in Hawaii as a member of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, Carlos won the Pacific Division rifle championship.
Following his assignment in Hawaii, Hathcock was transferred to Marine Air Station, Cherry Point, North Carolina, where he quickly found himself shooting competitively again. This time he set the Marine Corps record on the “A” Course with a score of 248 points out of a possible 250, a record that stands today. The highlight of his competitive shooting career occurred in 1965 when Carlos out-shot over 3000 other servicemen competing to win the coveted Wimbledon Cup at Camp Perry.
This achievement led to his being sought out in Vietnam in 1966 to be part of a newly established sniper program. After his training was completed Carlos began his new assignment. Operating from Hill 55, a position 35 miles South-West of Da Nang, Hathcock and his fellow Marine snipers renewed a Marine tactic which had been born in the islands of the Pacific in World War II. Within a short period of time the effects of the Marine snipers could be felt around Hill 55. Carlos rapidly ran up a toll on the enemy that would eventually lead to a bounty being placed on his head by the NVA.
As a result of his skill Sergeant Hathcock was twice recruited for covert assignments. One of the them was to kill a Frenchman who was working for the North Vietnamese as an interrogator. This individual was torturing American airmen who had been shot down and captured. One round from Carlos’ modified Winchester Model 70 ended the Frenchman’s career.
On another occasion Sergeant Hathcock accepted an assignment for which he was plainly told that his odds for survival were slim. A North Vietnamese general was the target, and the man died when a bullet fired by Carlos struck him from a range of 800 yards. Hathcock returned to Hill 55 unscathed. In one incredible incident an enemy sniper was killed after a prolonged game of “cat and mouse” between Carlos, with his spotter, and the NVA sniper. The fatal round, fired at 500 yards by Hathcock, passed directly through the NVA sniper’s rifle scope, striking him in the eye.
Hathcock would eventually be credited with 93 enemy confirmed killed, including one Viet Cong shot dead by a round fired from a scope-mounted Browning M-2 .50 caliber machine gun at the unbelievable range of 2500 yards.
In 1969, during his second tour of duty in Vietnam, Carlos was badly burned while rescuing fellow Marines from a burning Amtrack. The other Marines and Carlos had been riding in the vehicle when it ran over an anti-tank mine. Despite the severity of his wounds it would ultimately be the ravages of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) that would bring Hathcock’s extraordinary career to an end. In 1979 he was made to retire on 100% disability due to the advancing stages of the disease.
Gunnery Sergeant Hathcock has spent subsequent years instructing police tactical units in “counter-sniper” techniques. In 1990 a book entitled Marine Sniper, by Charles Henderson, was published, documenting the exploits of this one-of-a-kind Marine. Regretfully Carlos has yet to receive a penny of royalties from sales of the book, which has been produced both in hard cover and paper-back.
As this brief history is written he is confined to a wheel chair, struggling against the disease which he knows is terminal. Nonetheless he attempts to get to the police rifle range as often as possible. He still loves the crack of the rifles, the smell of gun powder as it drifts across the range, and the company of good men striving to be the best at what they do. The indomitable Carlos N. Hathcock II is indeed one of the “Few and Proud.”