The Real-Life Story Behind “American Sniper” Chris Kyle

Brandon Wade/AP

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The story of Chris Kyle, a United States Navy SEAL sniper, became a national fascination when Kyle published the controversial memoir American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History in 2012. Clint Eastwood‘s critically acclaimed adaptation premiered two years later. But Kyle never got to see the story of his life on screen. He was murdered on February 2, 2013, at the Rough Creek Lodge shooting range in Erath County, Texas.

The Military Career of Chris Kyle

Chris Kyle was born and raised in Odessa, Texas. He attended high school in Midlothian, Texas, and graduated in 1992. In 1999, Kyle intended to enlist in the Marine Corps special operations but was convinced by a recruiter to become a U.S. Navy SEAL. He graduated from basic training in 2001. Kyle quickly earned a reputation for being a good, and ruthless shot. During his deployment in Ramadi, local insurgents called Kyle “The Devil of Ramadi” and put a large bounty on his head. American troops, on the other hand, referred to Kyle as “The Legend.” The nickname originated while Kyle trained other snipers in Fallujah.

Chris Kyle completed four tours of duty in the Iraq War, during which time he was shot twice and survived multiple IED detonations. The FBI confirmed more than 150 of Kyle’s total kills, making him the deadliest sniper in the Iraq War and quite possibly setting the record for any American sniper. Upon discharge, Kyle was awarded two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars with valor, though the Navy later revised it to one Silver Star and four Bronze Stars with valor.

After the Iraq War

In 2009, Chris Kyle left the SEAL team in Iraq and moved to Midlothian, Texas, with his wife, Taya Kyle, and their two children. He became the president of Craft International, a tactical training company. In 2012, his memoir American Sniper was published by HarperCollins. Kyle’s frank writing style, co-authored Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice, connected with readers who found the account to be authentically blunt. The book also presented itself as being rigorously fact-checked, although some allegations of fabrication have come up. (One man involved, Jesse Ventura, sued Kyle for defamation; it was settled out of court. Regardless, the book became a massive commercial success. American Sniper remained on the New York Times bestseller list for 27 weeks. Following the fame, Kyle paired with the military nonprofit FITCO Cares Foundation.

The Murder of Chris Kyle

On February 2, 2013, Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield were shot and killed by Eddie Ray Routh at the shooting range of the Rough Creek Ranch-Lodge-Resort in Erath County, Texas. Routh was a 25-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran suffering from PTSD. Reports say that Kyle and Littlefield had taken the young man with them to the gun range in an effort to help him alleviate the mental trauma. In the end, it was Kyle’s guns that were used to murder both him and his friend. Although Kyle and Littlefield, too, were armed at the time, they were not able to unholster their guns and protect themselves.

Eddy Ray Routh had been suffered from not only PTSD but schizophrenia and had been hospitalized intermittently. Texts reveal that while driving to the shooting range, Chris Kyle texted Chad Littlefield, “This dude is straight-up nuts.” Littlefield’s response: “Watch my six.” (Military slang for “Watch my back.”) Clearly, Kyle and Littlefield sensed the true danger of shooting partners. But it was not enough. While he was in his jail, Routh said: “I was just riding in the back seat of the truck, and nobody would talk to me. They were just taking me to the range, so I shot them. I feel bad about it, but they wouldn’t talk to me. I’m sure they’ve forgiven me.” Eddy Ray Routh was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Chris Kyle’s memorial service was held at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas and he was buried at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.

Clint Eastwood’s ‘American Sniper’

Chris Kyle’s legacy was further venerated when veteran director Clint Eastwood came out with American Sniper. The Oscar-nominated film starred a buff, Bradley Cooper, as Chris Kyle. Although some critics derided the film as patriotic propaganda, American Sniper earned generally positive reviews for its transformation of the “Legend” into a tragic character study.

“American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History”



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