This sniper scored 16 headshots in 30 seconds . . . at night

Charles “Chuck” Mawhinney was one of the most lethal snipers of the Vietnam War with 103 confirmed kills. In a particularly daring engagement, Mawhinney stopped a Viet Cong assault by hitting 16 headshots in 30 seconds at night in bad weather.

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Charles “Chuck” Mawhinney. Photo: US Marine Corps Pfc. Garrett White

“Chuck was extremely aggressive,” retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Mark Limpic, Mawhinney’s squad leader, later told LA Times. “He could run a half-mile, stand straight up and shoot offhand and drop somebody at 700 yards.”

Related: Major changes are in the works for Marine Corps Scout Snipers

Mawhinney was operating out of a base near Da Nang in what the U.S. military called Arizona Territory. A large North Vietnamese Army force was spotted moving its way south towards the U.S. base, but a monsoon shut down air support. So Mawhinney volunteered to cover a river crossing where the force was expected to march.

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A US Marine Corps sniper in Vietnam. Photo: US Marine Corps archives

Mawhinney left his sniper rifle at the base and moved forward with an M14 semiautomatic rifle and a Starlight scope, an early night vision device.

The sniper and his spotter positioned themselves overlooking the shallowest river crossing. A few hours later, the NVA appeared.

A single scout approached the river first, but Mawhinney waited. When the rest of the NVA began to cross the river, Mawhinney kept waiting. It wasn’t until the men were deep into the river that Mawhinney began firing.

He engaged the enemy at ranges from 25 to 75 meters, nailing one man after the other through the head. As he describes it, in 30 seconds “I shot 16 times, 16 went down the river.”

The two Marines then hastily fell back as the NVA tried to hit them with small arms and machine gun fire.

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