On February 2nd, Chris Kyle, the Navy Seal and the most lethal sniper in American military history, was one of two people killed by a fellow vet reported to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, at one of the gun ranges at a hunting lodge and resort in Glen Rose, Texas. But not before he had written American Sniper, a number one New York Times bestseller, about which, Amazon notes:
From 1999 to 2009, U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle recorded the most career sniper kills in United States military history. Kyle earned legendary status among his fellow SEALs, Marines, and U.S. Army soldiers, whom he protected with deadly accuracy from rooftops and stealth positions. Gripping and unforgettable, Kyle’s masterful account of his extraordinary battlefield experiences ranks as one of the greatest war memoirs of all time.
A native Texan who learned to shoot on childhood hunting trips with his father, Kyle was a champion saddle-bronc rider prior to joining the Navy. After 9/11, he was thrust onto the front lines of the War on Terror, and soon found his calling as a world-class sniper who performed best under fire. He recorded a personal-record 2,100-yard kill shot outside Baghdad; in Fallujah, Kyle braved heavy fire to rescue a group of Marines trapped on a street; in Ramadi, he stared down insurgents with his pistol in close combat. Kyle talks honestly about the pain of war—of twice being shot, and experiencing the tragic deaths of two close friends.
Last week, William Morrow published an updated Memorial Edition, with numerous additional photos, and remembrances from those who knew him best. In our podcast today, we’ll talk first with American Sniper co-author Jim DeFelice, and then Chris’s widow, Taya Kyle.
During our 22-minute long interview, Jim and Taya discuss:
● How Chris went from rodeo star to Navy SEAL.
● How Jim and Taya first met Chris.
● The events leading up to Chris’s shocking death.
● How the new Memorial Edition of American Sniper came to be.
And much more. Click here to listen:[audio:http://pjmedia.com/eddriscoll/files/2013/10/20131023-pjm-ED.mp3]
(22 minutes and 36 seconds long; 20.7 MB file size. Want to download instead of streaming? Right click here to download this interview to your hard drive. Or right click here to download the 6.46 MB lo-fi edition.)
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Transcript of our interview begins on the following page; for our many previous podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.
MR. DRISCOLL: This is Ed Driscoll for PJ Media.com. Ordinarily, when we discuss a book, we have the author on. But the shocking death of Chris Kyle, the author of American Sniper in February of 2013 obviously makes that impossible. So instead, we have on today Chris’s widow, Taya Kyle, and Jim DeFelice, who co-wrote American Sniper. First up, Is Jim De Felice. And Jim, thanks for stopping by today.
MR. DEFELICE: No, thank you. It’s really a pleasure and an honor to talk to you about the book.
MR. DRISCOLL: Jim, we should probably start at the beginning. For those who aren’t familiar with Chris Kyle, could you talk about who he was and how he came to be a bestselling author?
MR. DEFELICE: Well, Chris, in a lot of ways, Chris is just kind of a good ‘ole boy, a Texas cowboy, kind of a minor rodeo star, even in his youth. And after graduating high school and spending a few years in college, he decided to join the Navy and try and become a SEAL. And lo and behold, he succeeded not only in becoming a SEAL but in training for a very difficult job among the SEALs, becoming a sniper. And he was so skilled, and he would say so fortunate, that he — in combat, his record turned out probably the most incredible record, certainly for an American sniper, in killing well over, we say, over a 150 people in the book, and the number I can assure you was very much in excess of that. Chris saw combat in Iraq in four deployments, and his main assignment while there was to protect mostly Americans but also a good number of Iraqis from insurgent attacks.
MR. DRISCOLL: So Chris was a rodeo star in his youth?
MR. DEFELICE: Chris was quite an accomplished rider and won quite a number of belts on the rodeo circuit when he was a young man. And were talking basically an older teenager, very young twenties. But it’s difficult to make a living, I guess, as a cowboy. He loved that life, but he knew that he had to move on and one of the other things that he really thought he would like to do would be to join the Navy and become a SEAL. From a very young age, Chris had, I guess what we would call, very old fashion — now, old fashioned, American values. He always talked about God, country and family as being the most important things to him. And I think that that was a lot of the reason why he went into the SEALs in the first place.
MR. DRISCOLL: But as I understand it, Chris was originally going to enlist in the Marines before he had a rodeo injury?
MR. DEFELICE: Well, actually, what happened was he went down — the story that Chris tells is that he went down to the recruiter to join the Marines and the Marine recruiter was out to lunch. And the Navy recruiter spotted him in the hall and said, hey, kid, kid, come on over here. What are you — what are you trying to sign up for? And Chris told him that, you know, he had always heard about the Marines and he really liked their gung-ho attitude. And the Navy recruiter said listen, the Marines they’re great, but you know, if you really, really want to see action, you really want to serve your country, you want to be a SEAL. And Chris had actually heard a little bit about the SEALs. And it didn’t really take too much to convince him that he would much prefer being a SEAL over a Marine.
MR. DRISCOLL: Jim, how did you become acquainted with Chris?
MR. DEFELICE: Back in 2010, my publisher had contacted Chris about doing a book, and as soon as Chris expressed interest, they got in touch with me and basically hooked us up. And, you know, Chris and I spoke a few times over the phone before we kind of decided that we were going to do the book. But I knew — I knew pretty much from the first sixty seconds of talking to him that not only was there a great book there but that he and I would really get along and be able to do it.
MR. DRISCOLL: And what was your role in co-authoring American Sniper?
MR. DEFELICE: Basically, Chris and I conducted a whole bunch of just months of interviews. We would sit down — what we would do is we would — we did a lot of them in person. I went down to Texas; he and Taya came up here. And we just would talk for hours about things that had happened. In addition to that, I did a lot of — I knew a few things about what happened in Iraq. I did some additional research on that. And then talked to other sources to kind of flesh out a lot of the information.
After I had done all the research and we had spent several — I can’t remember how long; we worked on the book for about a year. So I took everything that we had said and wrote it up and tried to do it in Chris’ voice as much as possible. And then Chris and I went over the book after I had written it and, you know, we made some more additions and we made a few changes. And then we had a book.
MR. DRISCOLL: I remember the Saturday evening on February 2nd when the news broke that Chris was killed. The initial story resonated particularly strongly with me, as my wife and I have been vacationing at Rough Creek Lodge, the scene of the horrific incident, about 75 miles outside of Dallas, almost every year since 2004. Could you talk a bit about what Chris was doing there, and how it all went tragically wrong?
MR. DEFELICE: I’m a little bit limited in terms of what I could say about the case. But kind of in general terms — and obviously I wasn’t there — Chris and a very good friend of his had — let me back up just a second. Chris had been approached by someone in the community who knew of him and knew that he had helped quite a number of veterans, kind of making the transition from wartime to peacetime. And this person told Chris that her son was having some difficulty kind of getting readjusted to civilian life and asked if he would spend some time with him.
And that afternoon, as I understand it, Chris and his friend stopped by that person’s — the young man’s house and took him out, actually, ended up taking him down to that ranch just so he would have a few minutes, a few hours I guess, of just time so he could just talk and maybe unwind a little bit. Unfortunately, at some point while they were at the ranch, the young man took a weapon, either — I’m not really sure of the particulars — and shot Chris and his friend dead in cold blood.
MR. DRISCOLL: Jim, I wonder if the death of Chris Kyle exposed the red and blue split in America’s media in much the same way as the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001. I don’t mean this to sound like I’m comparing their accomplishments, but when Earnhardt was killed, millions of Americans were in mourning; much of the mainstream media essentially had no idea who he was, or why so many Americans would care about him. Could you talk about the reaction from the media when the news broke that Chris had been murdered?
MR. DEFELICE: Well, you know, my perspective is kind of, I guess, having been a friend, I think my perspective may be skewed and I wouldn’t be necessarily the most objective person. I would say that what I saw is, you know, I saw an outpouring of people who just admired Chris and just lined the — I mean, they lined a couple hundred miles of highway in Texas to give him a proper send-off to burial.
The media — the media’s the media. I mean, unfortunately, one of the first phone calls I got about it, you know, from a reporter was from someone who was claiming that — trying to chase down claims that Chris had been murdered by Al-Qaeda or someone. I mean, there’s a lot of nonsense that happens, unfortunately, these days in the media. And I try to focus as much as possible on the positive stuff.
MR. DRISCOLL: Jim, how did the new, memorial edition of American Sniper come about?
MR. DEFELICE: Taya and I were talking and the publisher had approached us about possibly doing a memorial edition, because they wanted to do something to honor Chris. The publisher and some of the people there had gotten very close to Chris before his tragic death.
And the one thing that Taya and I were talking about is that Chris — the book really has a lot about Chris’ professionalism as a Navy SEAL and it does talk a lot about their marriage and their family life. But unfortunately, you know, that’s what we were doing in that book but we didn’t capture, you know, Chris after the war and really kind of that other side of Chris as a neighbor and a friend. And so we wanted to share some of that with people.
And we thought, oh, you know, maybe we should talk to two or three people who knew him and maybe we can get their remembrances in the book. Well, I think within a day, maybe twenty-four hours of us, you know, saying that we were going to do that, my phone was just flooding with calls and texts from people who wanted to contribute something. Chris touched so many people’s lives after the war that it’s just incredible. It’s almost — in a way, it’s almost too good to be true. I mean, it’s just kind of this good ‘ole country boy and yet he just had a way of touching people. It’s just really heartening.
MR. DRISCOLL: Jim, that sounds like a great note to end this segment on, before we bring on Taya Kyle for a few minutes. Thank you once again for stopping by PJ Media.com to discuss the new, Memorial Edition of Chris Kyle’s American Sniper.
MR. DEFELICE: Thanks a lot, Ed. It’s been really an honor.
MR. DRISCOLL: From Jim DeFelice, the co-author of Chris Kyle’s American Sniper, we move to Taya Kyle. And Taya, thank you for stopping by PJ Media.com today.
And, Taya, thank you for stopping by as well.
MS. KYLE: Thank you for having me.
MR. DRISCOLL: Taya, first off, obviously, my belated condolences for your loss. Could you talk a bit about the events in February of this year? Were you at Rough Creek with Chris?
MS. KYLE: No, I wasn’t. Chris and Chad went to their kids’ sporting events in the morning and then they were squeezing in a trip to take the murderer, who at the time they thought was a just normal veteran who was having a hard time. They did that often. They found a beautiful place to take him out to where he can drive on the way and then spend a little bit of time shooting. And then have an hour-and-a-half drive back, where he can talk some more and they would give him some resources and some places to go based on what he was working through. And then we were all supposed to go out to dinner with our friends. So it was just sort of a normal day but, true to form, Chris and Chad were the type that would live busy lives but do what needed to be done and make time for people in need.
At the time, they didn’t know there was more to this guy’s story. They had no idea of really what was going on with him. It just happened to be a woman in our small town who, you know, was a mother and had tears in her eyes. And people in our hometown knew Chris as a type of guy who would do anything for people and especially if they lived in our hometown. He was just known for being that kind of person.
So it was just an odd series of events and probably because it was in our small town, he didn’t think more about having to do more background. He’d had a conversation with the mother and she didn’t tell him a lot of things that he really, turns out, would have needed to know. And that’s, you know — so they were down there and the guy just gunned him down.
There was no — Chris would have done anything with him. He didn’t need to take him shooting. He knew that a lot of veterans, though, heal quite a bit from that. It’s sort of like a basketball player who plays basketball and gets injured and then is trying to get through some things. He may not heal as well in a counselor’s office but he may if he gets out and shoots hoops with some of the guys he used to play with; that may give him some peace.
And Chris asked this guy if he liked to shoot and he said yes. And he said would you like to go to a range and hang out and drive down there. And the guy sounded pleased and excited to go. And so that was about it. But, yeah, he definitely was not what Chris was told he was. And, you know, murdered two people in cold blood.
MR. DRISCOLL: The memorial service at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington appeared to be very moving from the photos and videos that I saw. What was it like to be at the center of it?
MS. KYLE: You know, it’s interesting because it was an honor to be able to give Chris the type of send-off that I think anybody would feel good about and anybody would want to do for somebody that they absolutely adore and who changed a lot of people’s lives. I absolutely could not have done that on my own, though. I’m eternally grateful and, in fact, to this day, still reach out to some of the people who did the planning for that and just tell them how much it meant to me because there’s no way, when you’re grieving, that you can pull together something like that.
And to answer your question, when you say to be at the center of it, I really was so focused on my children and our family and Chris that it didn’t feel as massive as maybe it appeared to everyone else. It was actually just very sentimental and meaningful to me. And I know they set it up that way because, although I wanted to allow people who wanted to participate in the service to be there, and so we needed a large venue, a lot of thought went into what would be something that celebrates Chris’ life in a meaningful way.
And Cowboys Stadium was — you know, Chris always loved the Dallas Cowboys and that was an area that had enough space to accommodate everyone. But also I felt would be something I could smile about and something that I felt like was just a big hug to my husband to say look what we did, look what we were able to pull off. And in that time of tragedy and grief and sadness, it is kind of a help to have something that you feel is a gift to someone you love. And then it was intimate to me because of the way that they set it up there. And the music, the bagpipes, the Patriot Guard, the choir singing the gospel music, the friends speaking from their heart, I mean, it really felt very intimate and private in a way, even though we had others who loved him there with us. It was all kind of just a big gift, in my opinion, to Chris and to our family.
MR. DRISCOLL: Let’s flash back for a moment to the beginning. How did you and Chris originally meet?
MS. KYLE: We met in a bar in San Diego. And we laughed about that a few times. You know, people have told us you should change to a church; say you met in a church.
MR. DRISCOLL: (Laughter).
MS. KYLE: But the truth is the truth, you know? We met in a bar and, you know, just one of those things that was an interesting conversation we first had. He saw me kind of giving somebody a hard time and he liked the way I looked and wanted to save his buddy from the hard time I was giving that guy. And so he stepped in and, you know, the rest, I guess they say, is history.
MR. DRISCOLL: Taya, after all of his exploits overseas, was it difficult adjusting to Chris’s return home?
MS. KYLE: I think it’s always difficult. And one of the things that we found with the American Sniper book and the people that we’ve heard from since is that it’s really a story that all veterans go through. So I think there’s a universal feeling that people get when they come home. And this is not just our war, here; it was Vietnam and different wars. And I know Chris didn’t intend the book just to be about himself. He intended it to be about all veterans.
So I say all of that to say that, yes, it was difficult. It was no more or less difficult than any other veteran family goes through, I think. But there’s always an adjustment. And there’s always a period, I think, that the servicepeople need to decompress and to come home and see that while they are at war and they’re passionately serving their country and their brothers are dying on the battlefield, that when you come home, people here are still at Starbucks, they’re still at the mall, they’re still listening and caring about the top forty songs. And I think that, in itself, takes an adjustment to know that there are people that care even though we seem like we’re oblivious to the fact that we’re at war sometimes.
And certainly, you have to decompress and put some of the emotional armor that you have on when you’re in battle, you have to take that off and be ready to be open and softer to the people you love, and the people at home who have been taking care of everything and children that have grown. They have to adjust, too, to including the servicemember when they come home and knowing that they may have some different ideas about how things are done. And the kids may have changed and some of the rules may have changed while they’re gone. And so both people have to really love each other through it because it’s just not easy.
And they can’t identify with the other person’s world. I mean, they’re in two different worlds for so long. And no person here can really understand what it’s like to be in battle, especially in a place like Iraq or, you know, Afghanistan that’s so different from where we live. Their culture is so different. It’s just — yeah, it’s a different experience to try to reconnect after all of that.
MR. DRISCOLL: Taya, last question: Are you hoping that the new release of American Sniper will help keep Chris’s name and history alive for others to learn about his service to his country?
MS. KYLE: I think the main thing with the memorial edition of American Sniper is that the story resonated with so many people, so many marriages, even if they’re not servicemen and women; they have a different understanding maybe for veterans. That’s what we’ve heard anyway. And veterans like it because it is their experience. We’ve heard that people who are married actually understand each other better when they read the raw account of what we went through. And, you know, certainly people who are interested in action see all of that.
So keeping that out there, I think, is a positive thing because we have gotten such good feedback about how moving it is for people to read about a veteran’s experience. Like I said not just Chris’ but everyone who goes to battle.
And then the supplement is about eighty pages and it’s a random sampling of people whose lives were touched by Chris. And we didn’t give them any guidance. We just let them write whatever they wanted to write. And to me, that in itself is impactful because when you read it through, you see that the people who were touched by Chris were touched by the qualities that he had. It wasn’t — time and again, I’ll say, Chris may have been a military hero but that’s not why he was my hero, or that’s not what I remember most.
And to me, I think that’s really impactful and moving for everyone because you start to think what do I want to be remembered for, what would people write about me. And at least for me it’s something to really consider that when your life is cut short — any of our lives could be cut short today, tomorrow, the next day — what do we want said. And it turns out it’s really the little things. It’s helping other people; it’s being humble; it’s having a heart for service and being able to laugh at yourself; being able to laugh at life because it is a crazy life. I think that’s part of the reason why that’s so important, even more so than just Chris, the man. He wouldn’t want it that way. He wouldn’t want people to think that it’s all about him; it’s not. But there is a universal lesson that we can all learn from his life. And if it serves and benefits people, that’s why he would want it and that’s why I want it out there.
MR. DRISCOLL: This is Ed Driscoll for PJ Media.com, and we’ve been talking with Taya Kyle about her late husband Chris Kyle’s best-selling book, American Sniper. Its brand new Memorial Edition is published by William Morrow, and available from Amazon.com and your local bookstore. And Taya, thank you for stopping by PJ Media.com today.
MS. KYLE: Thank you. I appreciate you having me.
(End of recording; for our many previous podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.)