The Life and Legend of Chris Kyle: American Sniper, Navy SEAL


By Michael J. Mooney

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A New York Times bestseller: The life story of Chris Kyle, the American Sniper.

A brutal warrior but a gentle father and husband, Chris Kyle led the life of an American hero. His renowned courage and skill in military service earned him two nicknames — The Devil among insurgents and The Legend among his Navy SEAL brethren — but his impact extended beyond that after he came home from combat and began working with fellow veterans.

Journalist Michael J. Mooney reveals Kyle’s life story, from his Texas childhood up through his death in February 2013. Mooney interviews those closest to the late SEAL and also sheds light on the life of the suffering veteran who killed Kyle. The Life and Legend of Chris Kyle is a candid, essential portrait of a celebrated warrior — a man about whom a movie has only added to the legend.


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BEFORE THE DOORS EVEN OPENED THAT MORNING, there was a line wrapped more than halfway around Cowboys Stadium, hundreds of people standing patiently, quietly, in the cold, damp air. The monolithic arena, the home of "America's Team," was the only place around that could accommodate the thousands of people who wanted to be there.

Plenty attending knew the man being memorialized that day, but most didn't. Some had read his book or seen him on television. Some had only heard of him after his death. They'd seen news reports for days, on what seemed like every channel, and had e-mailed friends and relatives they thought may not have heard yet. Families traveled from three states away. Men missed work and took their boys out of school because they thought it was important. To honor a man, to send him off the right way, to commune with fellow grievers, friends, and strangers, they came out that Monday, February 11, 2013.

The doors wouldn't open until 11:00 a.m., but some people showed up at 8:00, undeterred by the long wait. The morning was gray, thick with a fog, and it matched the somber mood in the air. When the attendants at the giant glass stadium gateways did finally open them, the crowd streamed in smoothly, silently, for hours. There was the sound of boots shuffling across the floors, of clothing rustling as people made their way in, but there were almost no words from anyone, even the stadium employees operating the metal-detecting wands. And while almost nobody spoke, nearly everyone felt some kinship, some sense of unity despite the tragedy that had brought them there that day.

There were businessmen and bikers standing next to each other. There were college kids, young men in jeans and hunting boots, young women with their hair pinned back—all stern, stoic. There were straight-faced grandmothers who might not have otherwise left the house that day, and widows who came because their loved ones couldn't.

Most people wore black. Many wore dress uniforms. Entire teams of Navy SEALs were there, as were other special-operations fighters from multiple generations. There were police officers and sheriff's deputies and Texas Rangers. Veterans of World War II, some in wheelchairs, nodded to each other quietly as they made their way into the stadium. Some men had served in Korea, some in Vietnam, some in the first Gulf War. There were many servicemen who had never served during a war and many civilians who had never served at all, but they all felt compelled to come.

The mass of people wanted to be there for him, for this American hero, because he had been there for them. He had always given everything for his family, for his friends, for his SEAL teammates. He'd been there for strangers who needed help, for countrymen who needed protection. The people who had never met him needed to show him how much he meant to them, too. They needed to make a statement, to honor something bigger than themselves. They came out because they agreed with what he stood for, what he lived for, and both what he was—a loyal family man, a fearsome combatant, an outspoken patriot—and what he symbolized: an American with American ideals.

These past few years have been rough for so many people. Nobody can remember a time when there has been such uncertainty in this country, such serious doubts about the future of the United States of America. So much of our collective recent past has been defined by gridlock, disagreement, disingenuousness—fears of all kinds. There have been drastic social changes, fundamental policy shifts, economic struggles, and that sustained, residual dread of terrorism. Even sports—what used to be an escape from the seriousness of life for so many people—has been filled with stories about cheaters and scandals and fallen demigods who once seemed pristine and sacred. Now no sports page would be complete without the words testosterone or concussion and a quote from a press conference somewhere in there.

So many Americans have been searching, grasping for someone, something to believe in. People have needed a hero. People have needed an icon, someone larger than life, like the heroes in history books and in movies. They have needed someone strong but humble, someone modest. Someone courageous, self-sacrificing, willing to go and do what the rest of us can't or won't. Someone smart, someone spiritual. Someone fighting for good, fighting against evil, fighting for freedom and for something bigger.

The people who came out that day were there because they'd found a hero fitting that description. He was American to the core, a highly trained warrior brought up to love God and country—the kind of man about whom hagiographies are written. He was a Texan, a cowboy. He was hope, assurance, the face of security, the epitome of fidelity. He was the proof that real-life superheroes walk among us, that some men are more than mere mortals. He was the broad chest and the cold eyes. Even before he died, he was already as close as anyone in modern times has come to being a living, breathing mythological figure.

He was already a legend.


THERE'S A STORY ABOUT CHRIS KYLE: On a cold January morning in 2010, he pulled into a gas station somewhere along Route 67, south of Dallas. He was driving his supercharged black Ford F-350 outfitted with black rims and oversize knobby mudding tires. Kyle had replaced the Ford logo on the grille with a small chrome skull, similar to the Punisher emblem from the Marvel Comics series, and added a riot-ready aftermarket grille guard bearing the words ROAD ARMOR. He had just left the Navy and moved back to Texas, and he was simply putting some gas in his truck.

Two guys approached him with pistols and demanded his money and his keys. With his hands in the air, he sized up which man seemed most confident with his gun.

Kyle knew what confidence with a gun looked like. He was the deadliest sniper in American history. He had at least 160 confirmed kills by the Pentagon's count, but by his own count—and the estimates of his Navy SEAL teammates—the number was closer to twice that. In his four tours of duty in Iraq, Kyle earned two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars with Valor. He survived six improvised explosive device (IED) attacks, three gunshot wounds, two helicopter crashes, and more surgeries than he could remember. He was known among his SEAL brethren as The Legend and to his enemies as al-shaitan, "the devil."

He told the robbers that he just needed to grab the keys from the truck. He turned around and reached under his winter coat instead, into his waistband. With his right hand, he grabbed his Colt 1911. He fired two shots under his left armpit, hitting the first man twice in the chest. Then he turned slightly and fired two more times, hitting the second man twice in the chest. Both men fell dead.

Kyle leaned on his truck and waited for the police.

When they arrived, they detained him while running his driver's license. But instead of his name, address, and date of birth, what came up was a phone number at the Department of Defense. The officers called, and at the other end of the line was someone who explained that they were in the presence of one of the most skilled fighters in U.S. military history. When they reviewed the surveillance footage, the officers found the incident had happened just as Kyle had described it. They were very understanding, and they didn't want to drag a recently home, highly decorated veteran into a messy legal situation.

Kyle wasn't unnerved or bothered. Quite the opposite. He'd been feeling depressed since he left the service, struggling to adjust to civilian life. This was an exciting reminder of the action he missed.

That night, talking on the phone to his wife, Taya—who was in the process of moving with their kids from California—he was a good husband. He asked how her day was. The way some people tell it, he got caught up in their conversation and only right before they hung up did he remember his big news of the day: "Oh yeah, I shot two guys trying to steal my truck today."

A brief description of the incident appeared in fellow SEAL Marcus Luttrell's 2012 book, Service: A Navy SEAL at War—but not in Kyle's own bestseller, American Sniper—and there are mentions of it in various forums deep in the corners of the internet. Before Kyle's murder at the hands of a fellow veteran in February, I asked him about that story during an interview in his office last year. It was part of what was supposed to be an extended, in-depth magazine story about his service and how hard he had worked to adjust back to this world—to become the great husband and father and Christian he'd always wanted to be.


On Sale
Apr 23, 2013
Page Count
64 pages

Michael J. Mooney

About the Author

Michael J. Mooney is a staff writer at D Magazine. He also writes for GQ, ESPN The Magazine, Outside, and Grantland. He is a graduate of the Mayborn School of Journalism, and is on the advisory committee of the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. His stories have appeared in The Best American Crime Reporting and multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He lives in Dallas with his fiancée, Tara, and their retired racing greyhound.

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