Sunday, October 16, 2005

MARINE SNIPER - 93 Confirmed Kills
Author: Charles Henderson
Publisher: Berkley Books

This book is a classic. Those who like to read books on war and its related subjects will find this one a "keeper". It is thoroughly enjoyable from page one to the very last.

THE sun was high. A white sedan slowly rolled into sight. A North
Vietnamese Army (NVA) general stepped out of his bunker. Hundreds of yards
away, hidden in the bushes, a man carefully placed a handkerchief-sized
cloth beneath his rifle. It was to ensure that when the bullet came
through the muzzle, the gases from the propulsion would not kick up dust
on the ground to give away his position.
The sniper studied the air density, humidity and the sun's direction.
All these factors affected accuracy. Then the cross-hairs of his rifle
scope rested on the general's left breast. He remembered to keep his aim
high as the heat could affect the velocity of the bullet during its
flight. After a few easy breaths, he then held the last one as he gently
squeezed the trigger. A jolt hit his shoulder. The general shook as his
body hit the ground on his back. His eyes, devoid of life, stared at the
scorching sun.
Gunnery sergeant Carlos Hathcock had just accomplished one of his most
dangerous missions behind enemy lines in a Vietcong-controlled territory
in Vietnam. Hathcock had been stalking his target for four days.
Patience is a prerequisite in the life of a US Marine sniper. A sniper
needs to be as slippery as an eel and as silent as the night if he wants
to enjoy his retirement benefits, and Sergeant Hathcock was the best the
US army had in its ranks in war-torn Vietnam of the `60s.
Charles Henderson's account of Hathcock's career as a marine sniper with
93 confirmed kills is one of the most gripping war stories ever published.
Hollywood has probably taken liberal doses of information and ideas from
the book for two of its movies, Sniper and Sniper 2, both of which starred
Tom Berenger.
In reel life, only so much can be told, but in real life, death has no
favourites. All sides are given equal treatment. Death claims those who
are ill-prepared for the rigours of war.
Carlos Hathcock was a natural-born marksman. In 1965, at the 1,000-yard
National High-Power Rifle Championship, he beat 2,600 other shooters to
claim the trophy. To say that he had an affinity with the rifle was an
Hathcock possessed three essential traits of a great marksman - courage,
confidence and self-discipline. He could move swiftly over great distances
and hit the bull's eye on a small moving target at a thousand yards or
The US sergeant's favourite weapon was the Winchester Model 70 sniper
rifle. That had served him well. Hathcock's unconfirmed kills probably
exceeded the official count. Dead men usually tell no tales.
Long before his tour of duty ended in Vietnam, Hathcock's reputation was
well-established, not only among his peers, but also among the Vietcong.
The Charlies (Vietcong) nicknamed him Long Tra'ng, or White Feather.
Hathcock had his signature mark of a white feather stuck in his hat
wherever he went. At the height of his notoriety, the sniper
extraordinaire had a bounty of US$10,000 on his head, courtesy of the
Some had tried to claim the reward. Obviously, they did not succeed
because Hathcock retired quite happily back in the United States. The
Vietcong feared and hated him. For a number of Hathcock's targets, the
sight of a white feather fluttering in the wind, facing their direction,
was probably their last memory of life on earth.
Out of the hundreds of books that have emerged from the battlegrounds
and padi fields of North and South Vietnam, Marine Sniper has the
distinction of being one of the finest accounts of a marine sniper's life
behind enemy lines.
Charles Henderson has successfully captured the essence of the man
behind the rifle. It was often a lonely existence. It is the kind of life
that unless a man adjusts and adapts to well, death is the only other way
One of the white-knuckled episodes in this adrenaline-pumping book
involves an enemy sniper who stalked Hathcock. It was a battle of minds,
wits, courage, luck and flying bullets.
The climax was when the two snipers came within striking distance of
each other. Hathcock was in the cross-hairs of the Vietcong sniper, when a
glimmer from a flashing surface caught his eye. Instinctively, in one
smooth motion, he swung his rifle around, took aim and fired.
In a situation where the odds were probably a million-to-one, Hathcock
killed his stalker by striking him right through the scope. The bullet
entered through the eye and into the head. On that day, Hathcock had luck
on his side. He had squeezed the trigger a split-second faster than the
other sniper. The Charlies were left to mourn the untimely demise of one
of their best snipers.
The dead Vietcong sniper had a reputation of being part of the jungle
because of his survival diet of rats, bugs, weeds and worms while he
preyed on his victims.
For those who love to read books on war, strategy and espionage, Marine
Sniper is a must-read. Movies like Enemy at the Gates probably copied a
few scenes from this account of Hathcock's life as a sniper.
Henderson has done a tremendous job of telling a great story about an
unusually talented man. There is no glorification of the killings. It was
a job and it was war. The rules were few but the targets were many. As far
as a sniper is concerned, it is always "better them than us".
The legend of Gunnery Sergeant Hathcock lives on today in the Marine
Corps Scout/Sniper Instructor School. Its foundation was built on the
successes of people like Hathcock and his contributions during and after
the Vietnam war.
Reading a book like this tends to make pen-pushers feel like wimps. It's
a guy thing, I guess. Made me feel like going out to the backyard with my
catapult, pick up a pebble, and shoot at a tree trunk.

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