Chuck Mawhinney, the Deadliest Sniper in Marine Corps History, Dies at 75

With 103 confirmed kills and 216 probables in Vietnam, Chuck Mawhinney was 'just doing my job' as the deadliest sniper in Marine Corps history. (Courtesy of Chuck Mawhinney)

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It wasn't until 1991 that the world learned of Marine Corps veteran Charles Benjamin "Chuck" Mawhinney's 103 confirmed kills during his time deployed to Vietnam in the late 1960s. That count made him not only the deadliest sniper of the Vietnam War, but also the deadliest sniper ever to serve in the Marine Corps. But Mawhinney never mentioned his exploits or record to friends or family; it only came out because a fellow sniper wrote a book giving him the title.

Like so many such claims do, Mahwinney's purported record caused a bit of an uproar in the Vietnam veteran and sniper communities. But it turned out that not only was the book accurate, it might have underreported his accomplishments. It was an even more incredible feat, given his young life and that he almost never joined the Marine Corps in the first place.

It wasn't until March 2023 that the legendary veteran told his full life story, and not a moment too soon. Mawhinney died on Feb. 12, 2024, at his home in Baker City, Oregon. He was 75 years old.

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Born in 1949, Mawhinney grew up as what some might call a troubled youth in Lakeview, Oregon. His teen years were filled with cars, motorcycles, shooting guns and chasing ladies. A skilled shot with a rifle from a young age, he also enjoyed picking off rabbits and deer from behind the stick of small aircraft. When his behavior got him into hot water at home, the Marines offered him a way out. He joined the Corps and was sent to Vietnam while still a teenager, on a 16-month tour that spanned from 1967 to 1969.

Joseph T. Ward served in Vietnam as a spotter alongside Mawhinney at the tail end of the latter's tour. It was his 1991 book, "Dear Mom: A Sniper's Vietnam" that listed Mawhinney's sniper record. Mawhinney didn't even know his old spotter had written a book. Author Peter Senich read Ward's book, and then went back into the Marine Corps archives to check on the claim. Sure enough, Ward was right.

For the longest time, the world believed the record belonged to another Marine Corps legend, Carlos Hathcock, and his 93 kills. During Chuck Mawhinney's tour in Vietnam, he racked up a confirmed kill count of 103, with 216 more probables. Senich wrote an article about Mawhinney's tour and his kill record for the December 1996 issue of Precision Shooting Magazine, an interview that changed Mawhinney's life.

Mawhinney had left the Marine Corps in 1970; by the time the interview came out he'd retired from the U.S. Forest Service after 27 years and was living in his hometown of Lakeview. Friends and family were aware that he'd fought in Vietnam, but no one in his life knew he was a living legend with a Bronze Star Medal with Combat Valor, Navy Achievement Medal, Navy Commendation Medal with Combat Valor and two Purple Hearts.

The Precision Shooting interview, he told local newspaper the Bay City Herald, was the reason he finally opened up more about his service.

"It's an opportunity for me to get some recognition for a lot of the Vietnam vets that didn't receive any recognition," he said. "We were all there together. If I have to take recognition for it, that's OK, because every time I talk to someone, I can talk about the vets. It gives me an opportunity to talk about what a great job they did."

Senich was going to write a book about Mawhinney's life, but the author died in 2004 without finishing a manuscript. Mawhinney's old friend, Jim Lindsay, eventually did it himself. Lindsay met Mawhinney in 1980 and, despite many hours spent together, only discovered his good friend's record while watching a documentary about snipers. Lindsay's book, "The Sniper: The Untold Story of the Marine Corps' Greatest Marksman of All Time," was published in March 2023 to Mawhinney's great satisfaction.

Aside from a legacy of service to the United States, the Marine Corps and the Forest Service, Chuck Mawhinney leaves behind a wife and three children.

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