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Charles Benjamin "Chuck" Mawhinney might have become a naval aviator instead of a Marine had it not been for the timing of his draft notice. He was 18 years old in 1967 when he received the notice, but a Marine recruiter offered to delay his entry until after deer season if he chose the Corps.
Jim Lindsay, a Corvallis, Oregon author, chronicles this story and others into a biography about his friend Chuck in his new book "The Sniper: The Untold Story of the Marine Corps' Greatest Marksman of All Time."
Chuck grew up in Lakeview, Oregon. Lindsay met the Marine Corps veteran in the 1970s through mutual friends, and they have been close ever since. Mawhinney kept his time as a sniper secret for decades after the war ended.
Most of the world discovered Mawhinney and his record after the 1991 book "Dear Mom: A Sniper's Vietnam" by fellow Marine sniper Joseph Ward, which claimed Mawhinney had 101 confirmed kills. At the time, it was believed that Carlos Hathcock and his 93 kills held the record. The uproar caused a flurry of research that revealed Mawhinney actually had 103, with 216 more probables.
Lindsay didn't know about his friend's war record until he saw a story about him on the History Channel. Curious about what would drive a man like Chuck to join the Marine Corps and have such an extraordinary career, he decided to write a book about his friend.
Written with Mawhinney's help, "The Sniper: The Untold Story of the Marine Corps' Greatest Marksman of All Time" not only details Chuck's battlefield exploits, but also explores the personal toll of being a sniper in wartime.
Chuck Mawhinney was something of a wild child in Lakeview in the 1960s. He was into fast cars, motorcycles, drinking beer and chasing the local girls. He even got a pilot's license so he could pick off rabbits and deer from the skies. Almost inevitably, Mawhinney ran into trouble with the local authorities. The Marine Corps offered him a way out.
It also offered him the chance to fly if he signed on for four years, which he did. He missed a critical test after a late night of partying left him with a hangover, so naval aviation was out. He trained to become a scout sniper at Camp Pendleton instead, and was sent to Vietnam in April 1968 with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment -- as a rifleman.
Despite his training, Mawhinney became a grunt in Vietnam, a FNG (or F*cking New Guy, as they were called). His missions through the jungles gave him a unique insight into the lives of the grunts he would soon be protecting from a distance.
Mawhinney didn't become a sniper until another sniper needed a spotter three months later. He spent 16 months in South Vietnam with the 5th Marine Regiment HQ Scout Sniper Platoon. One of his most famed moments came on Valentine's Day 1969, when he caught a North Vietnamese platoon crossing an open stream. He killed 16 of them with 16 head shots.
Like many famed snipers, Mawhinney saw his work not as killing people, but as preventing the deaths of his fellow Americans, Marines and friends. After his time in Vietnam, he served as an instructor at Camp Pendleton. He left the Marine Corps in 1970 and joined the U.S. Forest Service in his hometown of Lakeview until he retired in the 1990s.
The whole time, his closest friends had no idea that Chuck Mawhinney was a Vietnam War legend, awarded a Bronze Star Medal with Combat Valor, Navy Achievement Medal, Navy Commendation Medal with Combat Valor and two Purple Hearts.
To learn more about Chuck Mawhinney, check out "The Sniper: The Untold Story of the Marine Corps' Greatest Marksman of All Time" by Jim Lindsay, with a foreword by Mawhinney.
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