Silent Warrior: The Marine Sniper's Vietnam Story Continues

Silent Warrior: The Marine Sniper's Vietnam Story Continues

by Charles Henderson
Silent Warrior: The Marine Sniper's Vietnam Story Continues

Silent Warrior: The Marine Sniper's Vietnam Story Continues

by Charles Henderson


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The author of the bestselling Vietnam War memoir Marine Sniper continues the incredible true story of Sergeant Carlos Hathcock...

In the United States Marine Corps, the most dangerous job in combat is that of the sniper. With no backup and little communication with the outside world, these men disappeared for weeks on end in the wilderness with nothing but intellect and iron will to protect them—as they would watch, wait, and finally strike.

But of all of the snipers who ever hunted human prey, one man stands above and beyond as one of the most legendary fighting men ever to pull a trigger. That man was Carlos Hathcock.

In Marine Sniper, the true-life missions of United States Marine Corps sniper Carlos Hathcock were revealed in explosive detail. Now, the incredible story of a remarkable Marine continues—with harrowing, never-before-published accounts of courage and perseverance. These are the powerful stories of a man who rose to greatness not for personal gain or glory, but for duty and honor. A rare inside look at the U.S. Marine’s most challenging missions—and the one man who made military history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425181720
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/01/2001
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 400,178
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Charles Henderson is a veteran of more than twenty-three years in the United States Marine Corps, with a distinguished career spanning from Vietnam to the Gulf War, after which he retired as a Chief Warrant Officer. He is the author of the critically acclaimed military classics Marine Sniper and Silent Warrior, which first chronicled the exploits of USMC sniper Carlos Hathcock. He is also the author of Marshalling the Faithful, Goodnight SaigonJungle Rules, and the fictional Jack Valentine Marine Sniper series.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Semper Fidelis

Metal taste. Copper. It felt like a mix of acid and adrenaline in Carlos Hathcock's mouth as he knelt just inside the cover that the trees and ground foliage provided him. Slowly he raised the Model 70 Winchester to his shoulder and looked through the 10-power Unertl scope mounted above the rifle's receiver.

    He turned the focusing ring on the long slender tube, bringing the white plaster house and the sandbagged compound that surrounded it into focus. Even with the powerful telescopic sight the structures and the few men he saw around them still looked tiny. Nearly a mile and a half away, Carlos considered that he still had a lot of ground to cover before he could make the shot.

    "I gotta go worm-style," he said in his mind. "Grass is shorter than I thought, too."

    He considered his odds and didn't like them at all. The metal taste grew stronger, and he pulled out his canteen and took a long, slow drink of water.

    "Make myself look like a bush. Like a hump of grass," Carlos told himself as he slowly and methodically plucked handfuls of grass at the jungle's edge. He stuffed as much as he could carry inside his shirt and crept to deeper cover where he could work.

    Carefully, he cut little slits along the backs of his shirt and trousers. Taking a small bunch of grass in his fingers, Carlos stuffed their ends through one of the incisions he had cut in his clothing and brought the short ends through another opening next to the primary slit, thus securing the camouflagetightly. The grass laid at a slight angle, so he gently spread the blades so that each clump would stand and look natural.

    Carlos had taken light green and dark green camouflage paint and covered every speck of skin on his face, ears, neck, hands, arms, even his eyelids.

    With his Winchester cradled beneath him, Carlos knelt slowly and deliberately, and then spread himself, stomach down, on the ground.

    Now, well into the night, Carlos inched himself forward. Oozing like a worm. His motion so purposeful and slow, one could hardly detect any movement at all.

    Carlos reminded himself of what Captain Jim Land had taught him.

    "A sniper's best defenses are cover and concealment, and long-range accuracy. Most important," Land had taught, "one shot, one kill."

Carlos Hathcock gasped for air. It seemed as though he had the weight of a car sitting on his chest. He blinked.

    "Where am I?" he thought. He felt the dampness of the sheet and mattress cover beneath his back. It was not 1967. This was not Vietnam.

    None of the faces in the room seemed familiar, so the tired and aging Marine sniper simply closed his eyes. His memories kept him company now.

    The multiple sclerosis that he had fought for nearly thirty years had finally worn him out. Although he persisted in trying to walk, for the past few years, the wheelchair had become more and more a constant in his life. His balance was bad. He could manage to totter just a few steps. Although only three months shy of his fifty-seventh birthday, his body had spent its course.

    Outside, cold wind moaned through the trees as Carlos lay in bed, dying. His body was numbed by drugs and the illness that now raged through him, blocking most conscious recognition.

    He had developed a urinary infection. Infections of all sorts were an increasing hazard to him as his immune system weakened with the rest of his body. While trying to recover, pneumonia had invaded his lungs. His body just could not take any more.

    Now, well after midnight, February 23, 1999, Carlos Hathcock slept as the last measure of sand drained through the hourglass of his life. His vision had turned inward, and played back scenes of an incredible life. Still, he could never quite understand why so many people made all the fuss about him. "I just did my job," he had always said.

    Although there are snipers who reported more confirmed kills than Carlos Hathcock's ninety-three, it was the nature of those missions and the impact that his service had on the Marine Corps that made him the legend. The Marine Corps drew from his vast experience to develop its sniper doctrine, its sniper programs, and the training of snipers that followed him. For Carlos, that meant much more than any score.

    He had more than 300 probable kills in addition to his ninety-three confirmed. That is the way with most snipers. However, Carlos always rejected the thinking of people who measured a sniper's success by the numbers. He considered the sniper's role as a support element to be more important than any other. Many times, his job was simply to observe, or to shoot an antenna.

    "You would have to be crazy to enjoy killing," Carlos always said. "I never enjoyed it. It was my job. It was important that I did it well. If there was a meaningful thing about numbers, it would have been the number of lives I saved. Not the number I took."

    Until the book Marine Sniper had made him famous, and confirmed him as a legend among United States Marines, Carlos Hathcock was just another retired Marine living a quiet existence in Virginia Beach, Virginia. His gentle, soft-spoken nature, his slight build, and his kind spirit, hid from most people the courageous, silent warrior. Yet, it was that loving, sensitive part of him that had enabled Carlos to be such a hero and great Marine.

    Once a person came to know Carlos Hathcock well, his contradictory nature—the gentle man combined with steely killer—made perfect sense. He was that valiant Marine because he cared so greatly for others.

    Carlos had always regarded himself last, and placed his family, his brother and sister Marines, and his country first. His selflessness and devotion, his deep sense of honesty and honor had, in every case, guided his decisions. Always at the root of the decision was this question: His life or the good of his brethren? Himself or his family? Himself or the mission? He equated the good of the mission to that which was best both for his family and his fellow Marines. The mission always came first.

    Certainly he, like any other person, feared death and injury. Carlos was just an average man, after all. But, unlike so many others, he held a clear set of values. The values were perfectly logical to him, and the importance of his own well-being meant much less.

    His love of others. His gentle caring. His simple, uncluttered rationale that focused itself on the good of others, his community and nation, remained constant with Carlos Hathcock until he could no longer acknowledge the presence of anyone.

    Now, he could only remember. Lying quietly, he watched film reel after film reel play the best parts of his life through the windows of his mind.

Seated in his wheelchair, Carlos's hands shook so violently that he could hardly maintain his grip on the black metal gunnery sergeant insignias that he was about to pin on his son's collar. This was his favorite memory. He had told his friends that it was one of the most important moments of his life.

    The next day's newspapers had written, "Is the world ready for two Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcocks?" That made Carlos beam. The world would just have to deal with it, he thought.

    Most newspapers seemed to always get Sonny's name correct: Carlos Norman Hathcock III. But Carlos could never understand why so many newspapers insisted on referring to him as Carlos Norman Hathcock, Jr. He had always made it a point to impress on every reporter that he was not Junior. He did not even care for the name Junior. His parents had named him Carlos Norman Hathcock II. And it was very important to him that everyone respect this aspect of his name. Some people thought, What is the difference, the second or junior? However, it made a big difference to Carlos. He had guided his life, had succeeded on the battlefield as one of the greatest snipers the Marine Corps, or America, had ever known, by this simple aspect of his nature. He paid attention to detail. Detail was important. And his name, Carlos Norman Hathcock II, not Junior, was a very important detail.

    Today, as he always had, Carlos made a special effort to ensure that the reporters covering his son's promotion knew better.

    For Sonny Hathcock, making gunnery sergeant stood as one of his life's great accomplishments. He had dreamed of this day from the time he was a schoolboy and had first put on a Naval Junior ROTC uniform. He had known then that he wanted to be like his dad. He had joined the Marines, had competed in the marksmanship programs, led the Cherry Point shooting team. Now, at last, he had achieved this dream. Who else other than his father should pin on his stripes?

    Fumbling with the rank pin, Carlos took hold of the left collar of Sonny's Marine Corps camouflage utility uniform. The younger Hathcock, while maintaining a presence of attention, leaned over his father's wheelchair to enable Carlos to pin the stripes. First the collar slipped from his grip. Then he fumbled again with the pin. Sonny remained at a leaned-over position of attention, patient.

    Even for healthy fingers, the tight, tough weave of this uniform is difficult to pierce. For Carlos, with his weakened, crooked, and burn-scarred fingers, the cloth seemed impenetrable.

    A well-meaning lieutenant, standing in the ceremony stepped to Carlos's side, and asked, "May I help you with that, sir?"

    Those who knew Carlos well, including his own son, felt lumps gather in their throats. They knew this was trouble. When Carlos meant to do something, he would not accept help.

    Carlos Hathcock narrowed his eyes, and through pursed lips he sharply whispered to the lieutenant, "Sir. I don't need no help!"

    Hushed and reddened, the lieutenant snapped back to attention and retreated to his post. Carlos, now heated by his solitary determination pressed the insignia's two sharp posts right through Sonny's collar. Then, in true Marine Corps fashion, he slapped the insignia down hard against the younger Hathcock's collarbone and smiled joyfully.

Carlos stirred from his slumber. He felt chilled and breathless. His chest rattled with each shallow and labored breath he took. A small lamp near his bed gave a soft halo of light about him. The light quickly fell to darkness beyond his bed, where loved ones stood vigil. Light from the hallway spilled into the doorway, illuminating a path to the foot of Carlos's bed. He was at peace, and dreaming. The film reels of his life flickered onward in his mind.

The tan, smiling face of a tall, dark-haired lance corporal, who stood leaning in the doorway of the sniper hooch in Chu Lai, Vietnam, began growing bright in Carlos's mind. The lad held a warm can of Orange Crush in his left hand, and leaned his right shoulder against the doorjamb while resting his right foot on his boot toe, crossed in front of his left. He wore a green sateen Marine Corps utility cover tilted back on his head, the band wet with sweat, and the dampness creeping up the sides of the hat's starched and ironed crown.

    Carlos always liked to remember his friend and partner, John Roland Burke, like that. Smiling.

    Both Hathcock and Burke shot the same zero, so when they switched duty on the sniper rifle, neither Marine had to make any adjustments. Run McAbee was the only other Marine in Hathcock's entire life who also shot the same rifle sight settings as he did.

    However, remembering John Burke also caused Hathcock's heart to ache. Of the more than 600 men that Carlos trained into qualified snipers, Burke was the only one of them that he knew of who had not come home from the war. Anyone would point out to the Marine sniper that 599 out of 600 represented quite a record. It told of the superior training that Carlos provided these men. But for Carlos that made no difference. Each of them had a face and family, people who loved them. They had an entire life ahead of them. To have one of them die in combat remained unacceptable to Hathcock.

    Carlos tried to move his mind from the sadness that came with remembering John Burke. He focused more on that smiling face. That hot day in Chu Lai. Jim Land had just begun to organize the sniper unit and school, and everyone there was new.

    Those days seemed carefree now. Although in reality they had been anything but carefree. Once they moved to Hill 55 life in the field became very serious.

    How many times had he and Burke confronted impossibility and made reality of it? The three days in Elephant Valley had been one of those seeming impossibilities.

    It had actually been fun, in a dark way. He and John had encountered an entire company of North Vietnamese Army replacement troops hiking along a faint roadway that bordered a rice field in the middle of Elephant Valley.

    Neither sniper had dreamed that they could do much more against that many enemy soldiers than pick off a few of them and then run. However, Carlos's strategy of taking out the men who wore pistol belts first proved sound. Without leadership the frightened company dove for cover behind a long rice paddy dike.

    It might seem the best move to the unschooled, but Carlos knew that diving behind that dike was the worst thing a patrol could do. It was almost suicidal. They should have turned into the fire, returned their own fire, and attacked the ambush. For many, this immediate action tactic was a hard lesson to learn, but hundreds of dead soldiers who had sought cover in the killing zone stood as testament to its folly.

    The NVA had lain behind that paddy dike for three days with no water while Burke and Hathcock lost count of the kills they made during those days and nights. The two snipers had taken turns catnapping while the other kept illumination rounds called into the valley through the dark hours.

    Running low on ammunition, the two Marines called in artillery salvos to finish their work that third day while they retreated up the slopes and around the mountain called Dong Den.

    One thing about having Burke as a partner, neither man ever let impossibility cloud his thinking. Perhaps that is what finally used up Burke's life—facing impossible odds because the lives of his fellow Marines depended on his courage, his will to fight against bad odds.

    But, then, they never considered enemy strength, because they always planned to hit and escape. Much the same tactic that the Viet Cong had used for decades. As long as they could hit, then disappear, it didn't matter how many of the enemy they faced. The sniper controlled where, when, and how to fight. With that he controlled the battle. He never gave the enemy the opportunity to launch an attack on him. His elusiveness left the enemy with no idea of where, when, or how to find him.

    This chess match of deception had played itself to the extreme as he and Burke had faced and methodically taken out the majority of an enemy sniper platoon, trained in the north expressly to eliminate Carlos Hathcock. It was a private, very personal war that they waged in the midst of the greater conflict.

    How many missions had he made with Burke? Most of them, he thought. He had several with Jim Land, a few with Charlie Roberts, but most were with John Burke.

    Next to Carlos, the young lance corporal was the best sniper in the division. Together, the two snipers made a team capable of accomplishing the seemingly impossible. Thus, it was no wonder to Carlos that he and Burke more often than most faced the unusual and even the bizarre.

    Over time, a special bond grows between men facing the extreme together. The two snipers had lived at life's edge, side by side, for eight months. They survived on peanut butter and John Wayne crackers. Placed their trust in each other and their faith in God. Burke had become more of a brother to Carlos than simply a partner or fellow Marine. Although the last time Carlos had seen John Burke was in the spring of 1967, the memory of him that day remained clear in every detail.

    He could see himself joking with Burke and the other snipers while standing behind the diesel "six-by" truck, waiting to climb in the back of the canvas-covered cargo bed and make the rough trip to Chu Lai. Carlos had dreaded how his kidneys would ache after the long ride in the hard-bouncing truck. Burke and the other snipers had kidded about drinking plenty of beer so that the kidneys would flush good after the jolting.

    Carlos nearly cried when he said good-bye to Burke that day. He remembered looking out of the dark canvas cavern as the diesel droned down Hill 55, and seeing John Burke waving farewell in the billows of red dust. His smile. Wide and happy. Showing the purity of his soul.

    He thought of Burke and how he, too, loved shooting. John had excellent talent and would certainly have found himself competing in Quantico on the Big Team. Carlos would have enjoyed shooting with his friend. After the work of war, the pleasure of competition would have made up much for both of them. Shooting. Competition. Nothing in his life had ever seemed more satisfying.

"Lick 'em and stick 'em privates," a scratchy voice droned over the public-address system. A hundred Marine Corps recruits wearing yellow sweatshirts and green herringbone utility trousers frantically raced to patch the bullet holes in the fifty targets. They slapped black adhesive paper patches over the black centers of the targets, and white adhesive patches over the white areas. The recruits used many more white patches than black.

    A sergeant seated inside a shack at the center of the line of targets lowered in the butts at Camp Pendleton's shooting range began to shout over the loudspeakers, "Hurry up! Hurry up, Privates. Another relay of shooters is ready on the firing line."

    "Stand by!" the sergeant cried out, and paused, waiting for the secondhand on the wall clock in the target shack to cross the twelve o'clock position. "Targets!" he continued.

    Fifty targets rose together from the butts, and in that same instant forty-nine bullets ripped through the paper pasted on cheesecloth.

    Recruit Private Carlos Hathcock adjusted his knee slightly and closed his eyes for a second and then opened them. The black center of the target remained in the center of his sight. He let out half a breath, allowing the front sight blade of the M-1 rifle to stop in the center of the black bull's-eye. As it settled, he began increasing pressure on his right index finger, drawing back the trigger. He was in his bubble.

    When the rifle cracked, sending his shot 200 yards downrange and into the target, he placed a pencil mark on the center of the small target picture in his shooter's data book.

    "I think I got a pretty good one off that time," he thought to himself.

    In a few seconds, the target rose with a white marker in the center of the black bull's-eye. A recruit in the butts beneath the target pushed a white painted metal disk on the end of a pole in the air. With it he covered the center of the target, indicating Hathcock's score: a five.

    A voice came from behind Carlos. "Where is your point of aim, Private?"

    "Sir, at six o'clock bull, sir," Carlos said to the primary marksmanship instructor, reciting what the Guidebook for Marines taught.

    "You made an excellent shot, but why is your call at center mast?"

    "Sir, that is where the private last saw the front sight blade when the bullet broke, sir," Carlos answered respectfully in the third person, as was the custom for recruits speaking to any Marine.

    "But you know to hold at six o'clock bull?" the instructor asked in a way that was more a reminder than a question.

    "Sir, yes, sir," Carlos answered.

    Carlos took a second .30-06-caliber round from the loading block and slid it into the rifle's chamber, sliding the butt back into his right shoulder. He laid his cheek back to the exact same spot on the stock where it had been when he had shot the first bull's-eye. Taking a breath, relaxing, closing his eyes, and reopening them, the target again rested center mast on his sight blade.

    A guilty feeling swept him, and he eased his elbow forward on his knee, allowing the sight to move downward to the six o'clock position.

    "It just don't make any sense. Where you aim ought to be where the bullet hits," he thought to himself as he added one click of elevation to his rear sight aperture. "Not six inches below it. Here I am on qualification day, and he's asking me questions."

    Carlos closed his eyes, then opened them. Satisfied that his position was solid and aligned with the target, he squeezed the trigger.

    When the target was raised back up, a white spotter rested in the six o'clock position of the bull's-eye. Carlos cleared a lump from his throat and wrote the score in his data book. Behind him, a recruit with Carlos's scorecard noted the second bull's-eye. Another five. Two in a row.

    While the target was in the butts, Carlos looked downrange, careful not to watch his hand as he adjusted his elevation back to its former setting. "What they don't know won't hurt 'em," he told himself.

    The next shot struck center, in the V-ring.

    Carlos marked his call at six o'clock in his data book, and made a little check by the score. "Me and God will know it's center mast," he told himself.

    He had placed all of his shots sitting and kneeling at the 200 yard line in the black. As he rose to his feet, adjusting his sling tight to a "parade" position, the recruit keeping his score whispered, "Bet you drop one out here."

    Carlos narrowed his eyes and glanced back over his shoulder at the fellow private. The young man smiled, and Hathcock went back inside his bubble. He focused his concentration on the target, placed his left elbow against his ribs, and rested the rifle on his palm.

    The day had begun gray. A cool breeze ruffled the red range flag on the left side of the berm bordering the range. The air was wet and heavy, and now a fine mist began to soak the cotton shooting jacket that Carlos wore. Even though it was July 1959, and usually warm in Southern California, the cold Pacific Ocean turned Hathcock's breath into a white cloud. "Lights down, sights down," he told himself.

    Fog drifted across the 200 yards of clear area between the shooting line and the targets as Carlos's first shot broke paper on the left side of the bull's-eye.

    "Nine o'clock," he told himself as he marked the call on the page of his data book and picked up his second round in the standing or offhand position.

    He always tried not to think about the last shot or the next. Only this shot. As calm settled over him, the front sight blade of his M-1 rifle became so clear he could see the mill marks on its back.

    A second offhand bull's-eye. It felt good.

    After his third bull's-eye, Carlos glanced back at the private keeping his score. Hathcock avoided smiling at the fellow, but only looked him in the eye. The recruit smiled and gave Carlos an encouraging nod.

    His fourth and fifth shots also struck black. A clean score, sitting, kneeling, and offhand.

    Carlos loved the 200-yard rapid-fire, and the 300-yard rapid-fire almost as much. But four of his rounds drifted out of the black on the 300, and nearly wrecked his concentration. His shots had all struck in a tight cluster, but at the three o'clock position on the target, leaving the four rounds in the white.

    He felt like kicking himself. He had nothing but black through the entire 200-yard string of fire, and cleaned the 300 slow fire, too.

    "Damned wind," he told himself as he walked back to the 500 yard line.

    "Pay attention to the range flags. This is where it is all made or lost," he said aloud as he sat on his ready box and adjusted his sling around his left bicep. He slid the thick shooting glove on his left hand tight against the front sling swivel and pulled hard, tightening the loop around his arm so that his fingers felt as though they would burst.

    "Tight sling, solid position, adjust with your toes," he said as he dropped to his knees when the targets rose. Although he knew the range officer in the booth at the center of the firing line had called out to commence firing, Carlos never really heard it. He only saw the targets and heard the noise on the loudspeakers.

    He never shot first. Never rushed. He looked one last time at the dial on the side of the rifle sight, making sure he had truly adjusted in his 500-yard dope.

    "Out on the right," Carlos mumbled. He felt his heart pound seeing the red face of the disk come up in the center of the target. It was the fifth red face he had seen this day. Another four.

    The wind became unyielding and unpredictable, gusting and shifting. Visibility also worsened. Anyone would be lucky to strike black now.

    Carlos studied the range flags. The ones nearest him fluttered rapidly. Those at the 300 yard line lay limp. The flags at the 200 rose and fell.


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