Chris Kyle’s American Sniper memoir was brought to life with Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated film of the same name. Bradley Cooper, who portrayed the man known as the deadliest sniper in the world, touted Kyle’s heroism both in interviews and onscreen. Not that Kyle’s reputation needed a boost. He was already positioned as a military folk hero throughout his career, and his bestselling book brought further infamy. After audiences flocked to the film, he was immortalized as an eternal symbol of bravery and valor. The film made explicit mentions of how Kyle waved off references of himself as “The Legend” by his fellow Navy SEALs. He was portrayed as humble and not seeking to advance himself, only to serve his country.
Not all may be as it seems, though it’s not the first time anyone has accused Kyle of telling falsehoods. Jesse Ventura took issue with a segment of Kyle’s memoir, which portrayed a “Scruff Face” celebrity character who (as Kyle wrote) badmouthed SEALs in a bar before a pummeling by The Legend himself. Kyle later spoke out in interviews about this passage, and he claimed that Ventura was Scruff Face. Ventura later won a $1.8 million verdict against Kyle’s estate after a defamation and unjust enrichment lawsuit. Kyle, of course, was never able to justify his side of the story, although Ventura revealed that he had tried to have the Scruff Face story removed from Kyle’s memoir, but the publisher refused.
Now a new story draws more scrutiny upon Kyle’s version of events, and this matter is much more than two men arguing over a bar fight. The Intercept obtained internal Navy documents that reveal a whole heap of trouble for Kyle’s reputation. Specifically, the docs show that Kyle’s memoir overstates the number of Silver Star medals (two instead of one) he received. This doesn’t appear to be a mere typo, as the docs reveal that Kyle was warned of the issue before American Sniper went to print. And since the Silver Star is one of the most highly regarded battlefield conduct awards, this misstatement means that Kyle “grossly exaggerated” his military record:
During his 10 years of military service and four deployments, Kyle earned one Silver Star and three Bronze Stars with Valor, a record confirmed by Navy officials.
Kyle was warned at least once before American Sniper was published that its description of his medal count was wrong, according to one current Navy officer, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak about the case. As Kyle’s American Sniper manuscript was distributed among SEALs, one of his former commanders, who was still on active duty, advised Kyle that his claim of having two Silver Stars was false, and he should correct it before his book was published.
The Intercept also spoke with other Navy SEALs, who emphasized what a big deal it is to overstate battlefield awards. They consider this conduct dishonorable, which also shines doubt upon Kyle’s written claim of 160 “confirmed kills,” although such self-reported statistics are routine. The SEALs who were interviewed expressed disappointment at how Kyle’s embellishments have now clouded his demonstrated heroism. After all, he legitimately earned one Silver Star and three Bronze Stars with Valor, so why toss another medal on for extra kicks? It’s difficult to understand Kyle’s motivations for exaggerating his medal count in the first place.
The issue of “stolen valor” is not something military folks take lightly. Daniel Tosh exposed a related internet video trend a few years ago, but the Stolen Valor Act of 2013 took a hit in January when a court ruled that wearing unearned medals is a form of protected speech. Regardless of legality, Kyle’s exaggeration of his record does, unfortunately, tarnish his legendary status.
(Via The Intercept)