Carlos Hathcock – Interesting Reads

This section is devoted to other interesting reading that has been provided by readers and others about Carlos Hathcock and events surrounding him.


Eye Witness to Amtrac Explosion

“I was there the day the mine exploded under the Amtrac on which he (Carlos Hathcock) was riding. I had been on the #3 Amtrac at Hill 37 LZ Baldy when Carlos Hathcock (I didn’t know his name at the time) and his backup climbed onboard. I knew they both were snipers. I could see his white feather, heavy barreled rifle and scope; and the M14 backup rifle. It was about 20-30 minutes before the explosion. A buddy of mine and I got off and moved up to the #2 Amtrac which had less Marines onboard. There were five Amtracs in the column. We started at our Amtrac Platoon area next to the road that went west to Fire Base Ross, at the SW corner of Hill 37.We were going out to secure a rice cache and protect it from the VC.

“We left from Hill 37, LZ Baldy and headed north on US 1. A mile or so north ,we left the road (US 1), and started west out through a large rice paddy, hundreds of acres of open space. The #1 Amtrac stopped on US 1 and made the normal 90 degree steering turn and went down the embankment into the rice paddy. The driver of the #2 Amtrac that I was on made an abrupt turn, cutting the side out of the road, and went on into the rice paddy. The #3 Amtrac made the normal 90 degree steering turn on the road and started down the embankment when the explosion occurred. I do not know if it was triggered by the first two Amtracs or if it was command detonated. I do recall seeing one old Papasan standing close to the road on the east side as we left the road. He was not seen later on. All of those out in the rice paddy disappeared as well.

“The explosion was horrific. We had topped off our gasoline tanks earlier, each Amtrac had about 500 gallons. The flames were sky high at the start. Smoke was jet black and thick. Men were covered with gasoline and burning alive. We were about 100 feet ahead of them. I don’t know how any got of alive. It was so sudden, no warning at all. I could see someone getting Marines off the Amtrac through the fire and flames. By the time we got to them all of them were off. The site was beyond description. Everyone was injured. As I recall there were about 22 Marines involved, including the Amtrac crewmen and mechanics. The Amtrac driver got out alive, but was burned. An Amtrac mechanic was burned on the arm. (The crew chief may have been blow out of his hatch.) The Marines on top were all severely burned. We rolled them in the rice paddy. I wonder then which would kill them first, the burns or the infection from the nasty water. We had no choice. I cut the clothes off of one Marine, all he had left was a tee shirt and his boots. His legs, arms and face were burned, some third degree burns. I kept him alert and walking around, I told him “don’t you die on me, I can hear the chopper coming”. Many Vietnamese trucks, busses and pedestrians stopped along the road to view the burning Amtrac, the burned Marines and the disaster at hand. We told the native Vietnamese people to move on quickly, tensions were very high. It would have been easy to even the score at that point.

“Several Marines were horribly burned, their flesh hung from the faces and arms and chest. They were in shock, just walking around like Zombies, in extreme pain, they couldn’t sit down for long. The faces were burnt off of several Marines. I remember two marines that stood side by side, both had the same charred raw-flesh faces, one was a black Marine, the other was a white Marine, neither had the skin they were born with on their faces. We all look the same after the first layer is gone, and the pain is the same for every man. The medivac chopper air lifted out a number of Marines, (they made several trips, or may have been two choppers). Some went to the Hospital Ship off shore, and I think some were sent to the Navy Hospital at Da Nang.

“(Our old First Sergeant, Robert Kamelamela, now deceased, said the only color that ever counted was Marine Corps Green. If he said you were “green”, you were “green”. Everybody in our outfit was treated the same. No black, no white, just green.)

“Later that day we found that this was a frequently mined area of the road. A number of trucks and other vehicles, even a wrecker trying to retrieve a vehicle, had been damaged by mines, prior to this incident. Several incidents happen later on, after the Amtrac explosion. At the time of the explosion, it was thought that we may have entered into a mine field. We stopped the Amtracs dead in their tracks until we could determine otherwise.

“I’ll never forget that day the rest of my life. I can still see the men on fire and the flesh hanging from the burned faces and arms. For many years after I came home, at times something would trigger that burnt flesh smell in my nostrils. I’m sure it was psychological. I met one other Marine about 8 years ago, in a chance encounter, who was on the Amtrac behind the explosion (don’t recall if it was the #4 or #5 Amtrac. We couldn’t believe that we both encountered the same incident some twenty-five, or so, years before. We each recalled different pieces of the event.

“I would like to talk with other Marines who were there and record more of the eye witness facts. I would like to get a copy of the Company Commanders incident report, but don’t know where to go to make the request. I can be reached at edj@wrightconstructioncorp.com.

“Many good Marines were severely injured that day, some outwardly and some inwardly.” – Ed Johnson


White Feather

Mine was the life the sniper saved;
it seems a lot to me.
Whoever thought I’d live to see
the age of fifty-three.

I was the scared and lonely kid
who didn’t know the score,
and never saw the kinds of things
that wait inside a war.

The sniper crawled through Hell
to find the man who planned my death.
The General never got the chance
to take another breath.

There was a battle, never fought
in which I should have died,
if not for Burke and Hathcock
who, a whole platoon denied.

In the dark along the trail
she waited with her knife.
Apache Woman sought my blood
till Carlos took her life.

The fire came and seared my skin
and there I would have died,
but Hathcock came and burned himself
to rescue those inside.

I never thought I’d be alive
today to write these lines,
but when the sniper drew his bead…
the life he saved was mine.

-Jack Mergott

 


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