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Ultimate Marine (Puller vs Hathcock)


Who is the Ultimate Marine’s Marine? Each day, we’ll compare two Marine Corps legends across three categories: Service (actions while in uniform), Legacy (how their service continued to impact the Corps and the world) and Motivation (esprit de corps and overall badassery). The Marines Blog will judge initial rounds internally and guest writers will take over for the final rounds. Be sure to make your voice heard by voting in our simultaneous fan bracket here on the Marines Blog. Share your opinion on our Facebook page, or tweet your thoughts with us @usmc using the hashtag: #UltimateMarine

This round is being judged by Bing West. West served in Marine infantry in Vietnam and has written eight books about Marines in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

ViewBracketBasically, you cannot compare these two; you can only admire both. Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller was a commander of Marines who killed in combat; Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock was the individual Marine killing in combat.


Hathcock (1942-1999), from Arkansas, was a hunter and shooter all his life. He ViewFanBracketenlisted at 17 and held the long-distance shooting records, winning both the Perry and Wimbeldon Cups before shipping out to Vietnam in 1966. As a sniper assigned to the Hill 55 area south of DaNang, he had a never-ending set of targets.

Hill 55 was a small promontory overlooking miles of flat paddies. To the west ran a long ridgeline. The local Viet Cong guerrillas and the regular North Vietnamese soldiers in ’66 were constantly trying to dart across the small paddy fields as they maneuvered to get close to the cities of Hoi An and DaNang. You’d see them on a daily basis, but only for a count of one thousand one, one thousand two … Most of us grunts, armed then with the M14 7.62, could not get on target quickly enough to knock them down.

Hathcock was plain deadly. I suspect like the snipers we had in Falluajah, he had the trick of placing his aim spot on a known reference point, with many of the enemy running into the bullet. In the books, I have not seen an annex of his range cards. I suspect his average kill shots were 400 to 500 meters, but that is speculation. It would be interesting to know and to compare with Iraq and Afghan records, although Chris Kyle may not have kept a diary that listed the distance of each shot.

Gunny Hathcock returned to the States in ’67, and taught sniping techniques. He was known as a fearsome task master, insisting upon long hours learning all the basics, a habit that endures to this day in Marine sniper schools, where drop-out rates range up to 30 percent of each class. When the Gunny returned to Vietnam in ’69, the amtrac he was riding in hit a mine. He pulled out several Marines and received 3rd degree burns that ended his sniping career.

Puller (1898-1971) also enlisted at 17. He was part of the famed Caribbean advisory corps, earning three Navy Crosses in Haiti and Nicaragua in the ‘20s and later serving in China. He saw fierce action on Guadalcanal in ’42 as commander of 1/7. In 1944, he commanded the 1st Marine Regiment during the assault on Peleliu. With a bad infection in his leg, he was running a high fever and probably should not have been left in charge. In any event, he persisted in ordering his Marines to charge across a fire-swept ravine, a tactical decision that was later severely criticized.

However, in 1950 at the Frozen Chosin retreat in North Korea, his indomitability inspired his freezing troops. It was his finest moment in command. He retired as a lieutenant general with four Navy Crosses and multiple other decorations.


Hathcock solidified the Marine reputation for shooting — every Marine a rifleman. He was legendary – the “White Feather” – attributed with killing a North Vietnamese general and shooting a Viet Cong sniper through his telescopic eyepiece. Movies have played and replayed probably mythical anecdotes, illustrating the hold the word ‘sniper’ has upon the American imagination. He was credited with 93 kills; SEAL Chris Kyle was credited with 160 kills, mainly in Iraq.

In the public image, Chris Kyle has probably replaced Gunny Hathcock. Kyle’s war was in the 21st Century, his kill record was higher, everyone says he was a genuine good guy and he died in the most tragic way – helping his fellow veterans.

(Incidentally, several Germans and Finns, between 1939 and 1945, were credited with several hundred kills. The record is over 400, held by a Finn called White Death who later also became a renowned moose hunter.)

Puller exemplified the bulldog fighting spirit of the Corps. Not the smartest, not the most clever, but pugnacious and aggressive to a fault. You could rely upon Puller to attack, regardless of the odds or circumstances.


Gunny Hathcock was first and foremost a shooter and a hunter. That is the source of his motivation. Lt. Gen. Puller is more complicated. Obviously, he loved the fight – the “brawl,” as Gen Mad Dog Mattis would put it. He didn’t talk much about leadership; he didn’t leave behind a cherished set of axioms or write books about leading, as modern generals do. He inspired by example.

It would have been an honor to meet either man, but I suspect neither was loquacious. Both would probably say: Don’t ask me for advice. Just go out and do your best for the Corps – and then try twice as hard and maybe someday you’ll make a respectable E-4!

Winner: Puller.

Round One

Daly vs Lejeune

Foss vs Hulbert

Diamond vs Gray

Basilone vs Johnson

Puller vs Barnum

Hathcock vs Mawhinney

Vittori vs Glenn

Butler vs Davis

Round Two

Daly vs Foss

Diamond vs Basilone

Puller vs Hathcock

Glenn vs Butler

Final Four

Daly vs Basilone

Puller vs Butler

The Ultimate Marine’s Marine

Daly vs Puller

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12 Responses

  1. Marine Corps Production says:

    We had a Sergeant Major who wrote a recurring blog series on the leadership traits, but unfortunately he stopped before completing all of them.

    You’ve got a great idea, and it’s something we’ll look at. We used the bracket format to tie-in with March Madness and reach as many people as possible. This has always been more about the history than the competition.

  2. Paul Hujer says:

    As a general comment on this whole bracket concept. I think all Marines would be better served by something that allowed us to select Marines that exemplify the various Leadership traits that we learned about at Parris Island and our other posts in the Corps. GEN Vandegrift was a huge opponent of ‘elite within an elite’ and that is why he did away with the Raiders and ParaMarines. How about posting one trait a week and asking us to submit Marines and stories that show how they exemplify that trait? That way we all win. Semper Fi!

  3. Paul Hujer says:

    Chesty Puller had Five Navy Crosses and the Distinguished Service Cross. Your blurb states only four Navy crosses.

  4. Adam Bonus says:

    Gunny is close but Chesty was drilled in to my head by a SSGT of mine how could I vote for anyone else.

  5. Thomas Mac Williams says:

    did you have to put chesty up with hathcock , damn, well even Hathcock looked up to chesty , I know I went to the same boot camp he did, and every night we said a prayer and at the end of it we saluted chesty (where ever you are ).

  6. M. Ward says:

    Can’t vote! Chesty set the bar. Hathcock measured up. They are both examples of what a Marine is……maybe this little competition is not appropriate at all.

  7. Jim Johnson says:

    I agree I hear Marines talk about him and they just light up and show him much respect.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I feel the same way

  9. Tommy O'Donnell says:

    The Gunny earns much respect by all Marines but I must vote for Chesty. Gen Mattis is as close to Chesty as you can get but there is only one Chesty.

  10. Michael Carvelli says:

    BTW, what ever happend to LCPL Anthony Casamento in this competition? He won the MOH for heroics on Guadalcanal in 42???

  11. James D Huff says:

    Both were great in their own way and there is no comparison other than each did what he was asked to do for God and country. We need more men like them.

  12. Frank Signorile says:

    As much as I respect the Gunny, Chesty it must be!