All snipers are marksmen, but not all marksmen are snipers.
The sniper operates alone, distinguished from his fellow marksmen by the fact that he doesn’t have the company of his fellow unit. He is the unit’s eyes and ears, allowing a group to advance and keeping them safe, often at high risk to his own life and safety. In July of 1968 Major Willis Powel began training snipers in a specially designed school, starting with 72 hand-picked soldiers who were ready to roll out by December of 1968.
Here’s a look at the most distinguished of the snipers to emerge from the Vietnam war era:
5. Ronnie Shinya Marshall
Born October 30, 1949, in Zanesville, Ohio, Ronnie Marshall served as a US Army Sergeant and a sniper in South Vietnam. While the exact number of his confirmed kills isn’t known, the number is suspected to hover around the 77 mark, and his fellow soldiers and snipers have gone on to remember him as a gifted and exemplary soldier and Army sniper. Ronnie Marshall was shot by the Viet Cong in the province of Long Khanh on June 9, 1971, where he died.
Today he is honored on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Panel 2W, Row 11, along with so many other brave soldiers who gave their lives.
4. Carlos Hathcock – 93 Confirmed Kills
Hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, Carlos Hathcock enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at the age of seventeen in May of 1959. His record-breaking precision shooting would make him a legend among his marine peers, where he would amass 93 confirmed kills of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army personnel during the Vietnam War.
Among his notable kills were Apache, a female Viet Cong commanding general known for her ruthlessness and penchant for torture of captured American soldiers. The Viet Cong nicknamed Hathcock Long Trang, meaning White Feather, after his habit of wearing a white feather in his hat for good luck, and soon after many other marines began wearing a white feather as well to confuse the enemy.
While Hathcock generally preferred the standard sniper rifle of the time — the Winchester Model 70 .30-06 caliber with the 8-power Unertel scope — a M25 rifle, the White Feather, was later named in his honor. Carlos Hathcock passed away in February of 1999.
3. Eric R. England – 98 Confirmed Kills
Eric England was born in Union County, Georgia in 1933. By 1950 he’d joined the US Marine Corps, and two years later, at the age of 19, he’d become the National rifle shooting champion. By 1962, now a third Marine Division sniper, England would go on to become known as the greatest long-range shooter in war history, as well.
With 98 confirmed kills within six month of action, England’s remarkable prowess and marksmanship caught the eye of those around him, including legendary sniper Carlos Hathcock, who is reported to have remarked, “Eric is a great man, a great shooter, and a great Marine.” J. B Turner would later go on to write a book about England — The Phantom of Phu Bai.
2. Charles ‘Chuck’ Mawhinney – 101 Confirmed Kills
Hailing from Lakeview, Oregon, Charles Mawhinney joined the US Marine Corps in 1967, immediately following his graduation from high school. He’s best known for his 101 confirmed kills during his 16 months of action, especially the 16 North Vietnamese Army Soldiers he took down on St. Valentine’s Day of 1969.
Prior to the publication of fellow Marine sniper Joseph Ward’s book, Dear Mom: A Sniper’s Vietnam, Carlos Hathcock’s 93 confirmed kills was considered the Vietnam record. But Ward’s account of Mawhinney’s 101 kills, most accomplished with his primary M40 modified Remington 40X bolt action rifle with a Redfield 3-9X Accu-Range scope (developed in 1966 primarily for use as the standard Marine sniper rifle) placed his accomplishments above even the famed Hathcock.
Today, one of the rifles Chuck Mawhinney used is on display at the Vietnam Gallery of the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia, near Quantico, where it has been shown since the gallery’s opening in 2006, and one of the sniper’s astounding shots was recreated for a television special on the History Channel entitled “Sniper: Anatomy of the Kill.”
1. Adelbert Waldron III – 109 Confirmed Kills
Born in Virginia in March of 1933, Adelbert Waldron III served in the Vietnam War as a Staff Sergeant for the 9th Infantry Division. An accomplished sniper, Waldron’s record of 109 confirmed kills stood as the most by an American sniper until it was broken by Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.
Primarily utilizing his M-21 SWS during his time as a sniper (though, on occasion, he was known to switch to a starlight-equipped M-21 or M-14 for nighttime operations) Waldron was one of very few soldiers to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on two separate occasions.
Among Waldron’s noted accomplishments are making a shot from a moving boat on the Mekong River, killing an enemy sniper in a tree –at a distance of over 900 yards.
And yet, despite his incredible skill and accomplishments, Waldron remained low key. After his time in Vietnam, he went on to teach at the US Army Marksmanship Unit before retiring from the Army in 1970. He would die in his home in California in October of 1995 at the age of 62.
Not much else is known about Sergeant Waldron or his career in the military, which would appear to be the way he wanted it. He refused most interview and lecture requests, and never wrote any books or articles. He never wanted notoriety for his accomplishments, considering it part of his duty as a soldier. But notoriety or no, there is no denying that Adelbert Waldron III was an exemplary soldier, and an exceptional sniper.