When Chuck Met Charlie

After the Tet Offensive in 1968, the Viet Cong—Communist troops known collectively as “Charlie” to American soldiers—were on the march toward a U.S. base near Da Nang. Bad weather put a damper on air cover, so Marine Corps sniper Charles Mawhinney set up near a shallow stretch of river where the enemy was expected to cross—and they did. Within 30 seconds, at night, Mawhinney took down 16 Viet Cong. 

Mawhinney’s Remington M40 bolt-action sniper rifle had a capacity of 10 rounds, so the sniper or his spotter had to swap out a magazine. One miss and they were both dead, but they made it back to base and lived to fight on. As Americans of a certain age might wonder, who is this guy?

“Chuck was extremely aggressive,” according to his squad leader, Master Gunnery Sgt. Mark Limpic. “He could run a half-mile, stand straight up and shoot offhand and drop somebody at 700 yards.” Before his service ended, Mawhinney had racked up 103 confirmed kills, with 216 “probables.” That kind of prowess was not a matter of chance.  

Mawhinney’s father was a Marine Corps sniper in World War II, and as he told American Rifleman in 2012, “I started shooting at a very young age, and he taught me to shoot like the Marines taught him, so there wasn’t any big transition from hunting in Oregon to becoming a sniper.” As Hank Williams, Jr. might say, it was a family tradition.

Mawhinney joined the Marines right out of high school in 1967. He graduated from scout sniper school at Camp Pendleton in April 1968, and then went to Vietnam. Few people knew of his exploits until fellow Marine sniper Joseph Ward mentioned Mawhinney in Dear Mom: A Sniper’s Vietnam, published in 1991. 

Many fine snipers have served in the U.S. military, but few if any can say, “In 30 seconds, I fired 16 times, 16 went down the river.” Mawhinney’s exploits are a matter of record, and he marks a stark contrast to Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). 

As Raymond Hernandez of the New York Times revealed in 2010, “Candidate’s Words on Vietnam Service Differ from History.”  Despite claims to the contrary, Blumenthal never served in Vietnam, never took the trouble to correct the mistakes, and by all indications never considered resignation.

Those who actually served in Vietnam tend to take a rather dim view of those who claimed to have served but didn’t. Vietnam vets have been spotted in t-shirts reading: “Vietnam: If You Weren’t There, Shut the Fuck Up.” Perhaps those could be reissued, with the other side reading: “So Bring Your Chickenshit Ass Over Here.”  

The Vietnam War was unpopular with Americans across the board, and horribly mismanaged by the Washington establishment. On the other hand, Americans like Charles Mawhinney fought as bravely and effectively as any troops in the nation’s history. Vilified when they returned from action, and ignored on Memorial Day, the Vietnam veterans didn’t get their own memorial until the 1980s. 

The more than 58,000 names on that black granite wall include 40,934 Americans killed in action. The people in power today, from the White House on down, are not worthy to carry their shoes.

 

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