The pain and sadness felt with the passing of Carlos Norman Hathcock, II, is tempered with the joy and gratification of having known him. He was a legendary Vietnam War hero, champion marksman, sniper instructor, husband, father, and friend to all who touched his life. I met "Gunny" in 1992 while attending his Advanced Counter-Sniper School in Virginia Beach, Virginia. What started as a student-teacher relationship, blossomed into an on-going forum for the discussion of sniper training and tactics, as well as an enduring friendship.
Gunny was a tough instructor who demanded "attention to detail" from all of his students. "Nothing is too insignificant to be overlooked," he would say. This was ingrained in our minds through his favorite KIMS game, which was played daily. Starting each morning and throughout the day, we had to record every detail of his clothing and appearance. Randomly throughout the school, Gunny would ask students for a detailed description of what we had observed. The intensity of the school, along with continual activity, left little time for observation. On more than one occasion, a shooter would ask his observer to focus his attention on Gunny's appearance, and record the necessary information, instead of his observation duties on the range. For those of you, who think this was an easy exercise, let me add a few tricks that he would throw in.
First, he would layer his clothing. The burns he suffered in Vietnam, rescuing fellow Marines from a burning armored personnel carrier, covered most of his body and caused him constant chills. Layering his clothes helped keep him warm and would add to the challenge of accounting for his attire. In addition, some days he would shave half of his face, change the part in his hair (which was rarely seen anyway, because he always wore a hat), or add/remove decorative pins from his clothing. Everything had to be kept up to date in a log or notebook. He would approach when you would least expect; while you were eating or returning from the bathroom, and ask, "what was I wearing last Tuesday?" Failure to properly answer the question resulted in your doing push-ups for a while. The truth of the matter is that the push-ups were never of concern. Most importantly, no one wanted the embarrassment of having felt that you let him down by not preparing sufficiently.
He gave tirelessly of himself. He was not in the best of health, having received a 100 % disability rating from the Marine Corps. The dedication and selflessness exhibited at the Marine Corps Scout/Sniper Instructor School, which he initiated, continued to date. Most days he was able to walk down range, but on many days, he required the use of a golf cart. His pride and determination personified what we strived to achieve; a burning desire to be the best. There are no excuses for poor performance.
His favorite word, equanimity, sent me to the nearest dictionary. It means composure under stress. He required this quality from all of his snipers. His training was conducted to enhance this characteristic in those where it existed and to acknowledge to others, that sniping might not be their calling in life. When I think of Gunny, I think of the word fortitudinous, firm courage.
At the end of the school, he gave in to his love for shooting and fired a 3-round group. The pain in his eyes said it all. The burns on his body sent out intense waves of pain every time he pulled the trigger and the rifle recoiled into his shoulder. They were ignored, along with the tremors caused by multiple sclerosis, from which he also suffered. One tough, dedicated man was not going to be denied his true pleasure in life.
Gunny had a genuine love for fellow Marines and police officers. After graduating from his school, he was always available to answer questions, share knowledge, discuss tactics, or to just talk about life in general. Calls to his home were answered eagerly and personal visits were met enthusiastically.
One such visit took place on February 28, 1996. I went to Gunny's Virginia Beach home to hear his opinion on the final draft of my first book, A Guide To Police Sniping, as well as to spend time with him. His health had been in steady decline at the time and I was concerned that his mental fortitude might also be taking a few hits. The previous week we had a lengthy telephone conversation about his health, sniper training and tactics, life in general, and personal concerns I was experiencing at the police department where I was working.
His health and my worries at work weighed heavily on my mind. When I arrived, he was outside washing his truck. He greeted me with a big smile on his face. We spoke for a while on his front porch before going inside. I was immediately relieved that his health condition was not as bad as I was expecting and that he was in his usual good spirits around company. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and then got down to business.
The topic of discussion was the current state of law enforcement sniper training and tactics, and how we should prepare for the future. Opinions, perspectives, and experiences were exchanged. He related his gratitude for the support he had received from the entire sniper community and the knowledge that his teachings would be carried on, after he was no longer able to do so.
He was pleased with the final draft of A Guide To Police Sniping and honored me with the following endorsement, "This book is one of, if not, the most informative books I have read. Outstanding!"
A serious discussion ensued with a description of how he was truly feeling. Gunny never let on as to how bad he really felt. If you stayed with him for an extended period, you knew he was hurting, very bad. He was a master at keeping up appearances. Strong, tough, stubborn, and tenacious is how everyone with whom he came in contact, will remember him. However, those who had the opportunity to know him will add the terms: caring, kind, sympathetic, and understanding, to his description.
We talked about our families and family values, friends, and what he has meant to the tactical community.
My work concerns were no longer of importance. Partly because in comparison to what he was facing, they were insignificant and partly because of the insight, he shared when he had encountered a similar situation in the military.
Books and articles have been written about Gunny's life. He won the Wimbledon Cup, the most prestigious shooting competition in the world. His Vietnam War sniping exploits are legendary. He developed sniper tactics and training methods that are still in use today. Gunny had 93 confirmed kills in Vietnam. He told me that his estimate was closer to 280. Society thinks of snipers as people who take lives. The media continues this skewed portrayal. The reality is that snipers save lives. Why was the question never asked publicly, "Gunny, how many lives did you save?" The answer is thousands. Killing to him was a job with a purpose - saving lives. Ninety-three confirmed kills, 10,000 lives saved. He should not be remembered for the lives he took, but for the lives he saved in Vietnam and for the lives he continues to save every time one of his students passes on his legacy.
I consider myself privileged to have known him and to have had him as a mentor, as well as a friend. Speaking for everyone whose life you have touched and will continue touching
About the Author
Stuart A. Meyers is the President of Operational Tactics, Inc. and the author of the books, A Guide To Police Sniping and Police Sniper Administrative Policy & Training. He has taught courses throughout the world in SWAT operations, specializing in the field of sniper training and tactics. For further information please access their web site. Comments may be directed via email or by calling 301-996-7928.