Chuck Mawhinney, 74, Dies; Deadliest Sniper in Marine Corps History

Chuck Mawhinney, whose ability to creep through the dense jungle and looming elephant grass of South Vietnam and then wait for hours with his scoped rifle to pick off an enemy soldier made him the deadliest sniper in the history of the Marine Corps, died on Feb. 12 in Baker City, a town in the northeastern corner of Oregon. He was 74.

His death was announced by Coles Funeral Home in Baker City. No further details were available.

Mr. Mawhinney, who served in Vietnam from May 1968 to March 1970, had 106 confirmed kills and another 216 probable kills, averaging about four a week — more than the average company, which comprised about 150 soldiers.

Among American military snipers, only Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who served in Iraq and had 160 confirmed kills, and Adelbert Waldron, an Army sniper during the Vietnam War with 109 kills, had higher numbers than Mr. Mawhinney.

As a sniper, Mr. Mawhinney filled a number of roles. He would stay up all night with his rifle and night scope, watching the perimeter of an encampment for incursions. He would go out on patrol with other Marines, ready to support them if a firefight broke out. But mostly he and his spotter, a novice sniper who helped him identify targets, went out alone, looking for individual targets to kill as a way of sapping enemy morale.

Most of his kills came slowly, a single shot from his bolt-action M40 after hours of waiting. But some came in bursts: On the night of Feb. 14, 1969, Mr. Mawhinney watched as a column of North Vietnamese soldiers crossed a shallow river near Da Nang, making their way toward a Marine encampment. He started firing, quickly but methodically, and in 30 seconds he had killed 16. The rest retreated.

He claimed no special talent as a sniper, just the willingness to put in endless hours of practice. But he also demonstrated an unusual ability to tolerate grueling hours of stillness hiding in the jungle, alert for targets while bugs and snakes crawled over him.

By his account he had a resting heart rate of just 50 beats a minute, and he would use the pumping of his heart and the rise and fall of his breath to time his shots.

Mr. Mawhinney grew up in rural eastern Oregon and learned to shoot from his maternal grandfather. He favored deer hunting, and he would spend days in the woods, camping and following his prey until he got a kill. It was, unintentionally, perfect training for his wartime future.

He was neither boastful nor bashful about his task. He did not relish killing, he said, but he accepted it as an important part of keeping his fellow Marines safe.

“I just did what I was trained to do,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 2000. “I was in-country a long time in a very hot area. I didn’t do anything special.”

When one of his commanders posted a sniper leaderboard in their camp, ranking each man on his kill count, Mr. Mawhinney protested. It was distasteful, he said — and worse, it might encourage people to take fatal risks in the name of competition. The board came down.

“You’re in a war with another country, and these people are your enemy,” he told Vietnam magazine in 2003. “I don’t think I totally hated the enemy. I did have respect for them. But my job was to demoralize them.”

Charles Benjamin Mawhinney was born on Feb. 23, 1949, in Lakeview, Ore., the son of Charles and Beulah (Franz) Mawhinney. His father had served in the Marines during World War II, fighting in the Pacific theater.

After graduating from high school in 1967, Chuck wanted to become a Navy pilot. But a Marine Corps recruiter won him over by promising that he could delay his enlistment by four months, until the end of deer season.

The Marines had not had dedicated snipers since World War II, but by 1967 the corps had changed its mind. Mr. Mawhinney was among the first to complete the new Scout Sniper School at Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps installation in Southern California. He graduated at the top of his class.

Despite his credentials, he was at first assigned to regular infantry. Eager to be in a sniper platoon, he faked a toothache to get himself sent to the rear, where he found a unit in need of a marksman. He lobbied for a transfer, and got one.

Mr. Mawhinney returned to the United States in the spring of 1970 and was discharged that August. He returned to Oregon, where he worked with the United States Forest Service. He retired in 1997.

He married Robin Hood in 1970. Along with her, survivors include their three sons, Cody, Dennis and Don.

Mr. Mawhinney kept quiet about his years as a sniper; most of his friends in Oregon did not know the details. He didn’t even tell his wife.

For decades, another Vietnam-era Marine Corps sniper, Carlos Hathcock, was credited with the most kills, 93 confirmed — a distinction Mr. Mawhinney had no desire to challenge.

Mr. Mawhinney long kept quiet about his years as a sniper. But in 1991, a friend and fellow former sniper, Joseph T. Ward, published a book in which he revealed Mr. Mawhinney’s kill count.Credit…Ballantine Books

But in 1991, a friend and fellow former sniper, Joseph T. Ward, published “Dear Mom: A Sniper’s Vietnam,” in which he revealed Mr. Mawhinney’s kill count.

As word of his record got out, Mr. Mawhinney found himself increasingly in demand as a speaker, consultant and competition judge. “The Sniper: The Untold Story of the Marine Corps’ Greatest Marksman of All Time,” a biography of Mr. Mawhinney by Jim Lindsay, was published last year.

At one point an admirer in the Marine Corps managed to track down Mr. Mawhinney’s M40 sniper rifle. Refurbished, it now sits on display in the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va.

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