Many are familiar with the scout sniper legend Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock, who achieved notoriety for 93 confirmed kills during his tenure in the Vietnam War. But few know of Charles B. “Chuck” Mawhinney, who topped Hathcock’s feat with ten more confirmed kills during the same conflict. As impressive as his accomplishment is, it remained under wraps for more than two decades.
The story of Chuck Mawhinney is akin to something one would imagine as a plot in the action movies of today, but he is as real as it gets. The son of a World War II Marine, he followed a proud tradition of extraordinary men who did things not for themselves, but for their fellow Marines. Mawhinney saved the lives of his own by undermining the enemy’s morale and keeping North Vietnamese soldiers and Viet Cong from sending rounds downrange.
The Oregon native was an enthused hunter throughout his youth. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1967.
During his 16-month tour in Vietnam, Mawhinney broke the confirmed kill record as a scout sniper with 103 confirmed kills and attained an additional 216 possible kills. The “probables” were not confirmed due to the lack of an official third party presence or the ability to physically confirm the enemy casualty.
Mawhinney was diagnosed with combat fatigue and sent back to the U.S. to be a marksmanship instructor at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. He left the Marine Corps as a sergeant in 1970 and returned to rural Oregon. He got married and went to work for the U.S. Forest Service, slipping into obscurity, by preference, and never mentioning his experi-ences to anyone.
Mawhinney never sought recognition for his time as a sniper, however, his record was revealed in the early 1990s through a book, written by fellow Marine sniper, Joseph T. Ward entitled “Dear Mom: A Snipers Vietnam.”
When Mawhinney retired from the forest service he began to speak publicly at shooting expos, promoting a positive image of the sniper and his role as a lifesaver on the battlefield, as well as speaking to classes of professional snipers in training. He discretely continues to serve the Corps by offering his expertise to the Precision Weapons Shop, Weapons Training Battalion, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., where Marines reenacted one of his most astounding shots for the History Channel special, “Sniper: The Anatomy of the Kill.”
Although Mawhinney set the precedence for the Corps’ elite snipers, he may remain another unsung legend of the Corps.