Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif. --
In the annals of Marine Corps history, the name typically associated with sniping is Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock, a Marine sniper during the Vietnam War; with 93 confirmed kills, one of the longest distance kills ever recorded, and a pioneer of the Marine’s sniper training program, Hathcock easily earns his spot in Marine Corps history.
However, thanks to a book titled: "Dear Mom: A Sniper's Vietnam,” released in 1991 by Marine sniper Joseph Ward, Marine sniper and Vietnam War veteran Charles B. “Chuck” Mawhinney was brought into the spotlight. In the book, Ward credited Mawhinney with 101 confirmed kills.
Military records show Mawhinney, an Oregon native, has 103 confirmed kills, and 216 probable kills during the Vietnam War; making him the deadliest sniper in Marine Corps history.
Mawhinney spent 16 months in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969, was said to have considered his job “the ultimate hunting trip.” He said he wouldn’t look his targets in the eyes he wouldn’t think if they had a wife or kids when they were in his scope all that mattered was he had to kill them before they killed him.
His rules of engagement were simple; if there was an armed enemy in his sights he was taking the shot.
To him, his job wasn’t all about taking lives, it was about saving them. Every person he killed was not only one less person to kill a fellow Marine, but he was also sapping the enemies will to fight.
When training rookie snipers, he would make sure they understood that. Their job was to kill the enemy and missing a shot, or having second thoughts on taking the shot could get them or a fellow Marine killed.
Mawhinney even took issue when a platoon leader made a “kill board” turning his unit’s job into a competition. Thinking this could cause some of the younger and overzealous Marines to take chances with their lives to get more kills thus putting their lives in danger, he took it up his chain of command to get the board taken down.
Keeping his fellow Marines safe was always at the forefront of his mind. So even when he was becoming disillusioned with America’s presence in Vietnam, he extended his tour twice in order to keep his Marines safe.
One memory that sticks with Mawhinney the most is the “one that got away”. Having just returned to Vietnam from leave, Mawhinney was getting his rifle back from the armorer, who assured him they didn’t make any changes to his rifle. Trusting the armorer, Mawhinney went out with his sniper team to support an infantry squad that was in the field.
From a concealed location hundreds of yards away from where the engagement was expected to occur, his team was charged with picking off any stragglers or North Vietnamese Army or Viet Cong reinforcements attempting the join the fight or thinking the area was safe from the fight.
From about 300 yards away Mawhinney spotted an armed enemy combatant in a rice paddy dike. He took the shot and missed. As a routinely deadly shot at that range, Mawhinney knew someone at the armory had done something to his scope. He took several more shots while trying to compensate for his altered scope, but couldn’t hit the target, and the man got away.
It’s one of the few things that still bother him about Vietnam. Mawhinney wonders how many people that man could have killed, how many of his friends, of his fellow Marines. He will never truly know, but it haunts him to this day.
Initially upset that his privacy, and his past was brought out to the public, Mawhinney, now retired from a Forest Service’s career in Oregon, has used his newfound fame to try and cast a better light on the snipers. He is in high demand among military and police marksman instructors for his knowledge and experiences as a sniper.
Mawhinney has been a guest of honor at various marksmanship competitions around the country attended by military personnel and police SWAT snipers. He is also the spokesman for Strider Knives, which produces a knife with his signature on the blade. One of these knives is presented to the top graduate of each USMC Scout Sniper School in Camp Pendleton, California.
Information for this story was gathered from a Los Angeles Times article http://articles.latimes.com/print/2000/jan/22/news/mn-56566 published January 22, 2000, and Charles Mawhinney’s personal webpage http://www.chuckmawhinney.com/.