‘White Feather’ – America’s Vietnam War Sniper

Carlos Hathcock wore a white feather in his bush hat as he “wormed” his way through the jungle, following North Vietnam Army personnel during the Vietnam War and daring the NVA to spot him.  The only time he removed the feather was during an awe-inspiring hunt of an NVA General.

For four days and three nights, without food or sleep, he crawled after his quarry until he was able to get within 700 yards.  That was as close as Hathcock needed.  As the General stepped out onto a porch and yawned, he was hit through the heart and dropped.  The NVA searched for three days for the legendary sniper, but his ability to become part of his environment allowed him to escape without a trace.

Hathcock first learned how to shoot during his childhood in rural Arkansas, where he would hunt for food while dreaming of his future as a Marine.  He signed up on May 20, 1959 as a 17-year-old, and in 1966 was deployed to Vietnam as a military policeman. He had previously won several marksmanship awards and soon became a Marine Corps sniper.

As his reputation grew so did the bounty on his life.  It was common for the NVA to put a bounty on the lives of American snipers – anything from $8 to $2000.  But for Carlos the bounty was $30,000.  He is credited with 93 confirmed kills, but he estimated that he killed more than 300.  Because of his activities behind enemy lines, it was difficult to get confirmation for many of his kills.

One such kill was a sadistic female NVA platoon leader the Marines nicknamed ‘Apache.’ She would regularly capture Marines and torture them without mercy from within earshot of his own unit. With Hathcock on her trail one day in November 1966, a marine private she had been torturing for two days became her last victim.  Hathcock and his spotter noticed an NVA sniper platoon on the move and that one of them had stepped off the trail.  Hathcock took what he refers to as his best shot ever — from 700 yards away,

“We were in the midst of switching rifles.  We saw them,” he remembered. “I saw a group coming, five of them. I saw her squat to pee, that’s how I knew it was her.  They tried to get her to stop, but she didn’t stop. I stopped her. I put one extra in her for good measure.”

Perhaps his most famous kill was the Cobra, the NVA’s top sniper who had been assigned the task of taking out White Feather.  He did get a shot at Hathcock but only hit the spotter’s canteen.  After some further maneuvering, the roles were reversed and Hathcock got his chance.  The sun was facing the Cobra and a small glint from his rifle scope telegraphed his position. Hathcock fired at the spot of light and put a bullet through the scope and into the eye  of the Cobra.  The bullet having gone through the scope meant that the Cobra was aimed and ready to shot, but White Feather fired first, We Are The Mighty reports.

Hathcock’s Vietnam service ended when a vehicle he was in struck a land mine.  He sustained burns to 40% of his body, but received the Silver Star for his actions in pulling seven fellow Marines out of the burning vehicle.  Upon returning to the United States, he set up the Marine Sniper School at Quantico, Virginia.  There he taught young snipers until he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and medically discharged in 1979.  In 1999, the disease took his life, something the best the NVA had to offer could not do.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE