That Navy SEAL Chris Kyle served with distinction in combat is not in dispute. The celebrated Iraq War veteran braved enemy fire numerous times while deployed to some of that war’s most intense battlegrounds. During the 2004 fight to take back the city of Fallujah, for example, he exhibited “unparalleled bravery and skill as a sniper” and “served as an example to all,” according to a performance evaluation released to the website MuckRock last year.
But a new report Wednesday by the Intercept suggests that the number of valor awards Kyle claimed in his bestselling book “American Sniper” to have earned was erroneous. Kyle “embellished his military record” and was warned at least once before “American Sniper” was published that its description of his medal count was inflated, the story alleged, citing one current Navy officer who requested and received anonymity from the Intercept.
Kyle wrote that he received two Silver Stars, a prestigious decoration two levels below the Medal of Honor, and five Bronze Stars with a “V” device, signifying they were earned for valor. But records released by Navy Personnel Command in Millington, Tenn., show that Kyle received one Silver Star and three Bronze Stars with V.
It could prove difficult to determine where the discrepancy originates. Kyle and a friend, Chad Littlefield, were murdered at a Texas gun range three years ago, and the Navy has previously released a copy of Kyle’s discharge paperwork — typically known as a DD Form 214 — that showed he earned two Silver Stars and at least five Bronze Stars with a V. Those documents are typically prepared by a clerk in a service member’s unit, and can be corrected if an error surfaces. However, those same discharge papers also are often used as a primary source to determine whether a service member has been lying about his military history — a so-called case of “stolen valor.”
A Navy spokeswoman, Lt. Jackie Pau, said Wednesday that the service is working to determine the origin of the disparity.
“The Navy considers the individual service member’s official military personnel file and our central official awards records to be the authoritative sources for verifying entitlement to decorations and awards,” she said in an email. “The form DD214 is generated locally at the command where the service member is separated. Although the information on the DD214 should match the official records, the process involves people and inevitably some errors may occur.”
In Kyle’s case, the issue will undoubtedly be used as fodder by critics who have already questioned his truthfulness. Most notably, a jury awarded Jesse Ventura, the former Minnesota governor and wrestling star, $1.845 million in damages after deciding that he was defamed by Kyle’s allegations that he had punched Ventura out in a bar in 2006 after he said the SEALs “deserved to lose a few” in war.
In the “American Sniper” book, Kyle did not name Ventura, referencing him only as “Mr. Scruff Face” and alleging that he “started running his mouth about the war and everything and anything he could connect to it” at a gathering of SEALs following the death of Navy SEAL and future Medal of Honor recipient, Master at Arms 2nd Class Michael Monsoor. But Kyle subsequently identified Ventura, a fellow Navy veteran, by name in media interviews. The case was appealed afterward by an attorney for Kyle’s estate.
Some of Kyle’s alleged claims before he died also have come under scrutiny, especially that he was perched atop the Superdome in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to pick off looters and once killed two assailants at a Texas gas station after they allegedly attempted to steal his truck. The latter is mentioned in a profile of him published by D Magazine in April 2013, while the former is noted in a New Yorker piece two months later.
The “American Sniper” movie also has taken criticism — both for allegedly feeding America’s “hero complex” and deviating from Kyle’s account of events for dramatic effect. Notably, the main villain in the film — a Syrian sniper named Mustafa — is barely mentioned in the book. The timeline of events associated with a Navy SEAL’s death are also altered in the movie for dramatic effect, with Kyle learning about his passing while still deployed and seeking revenge afterward. In real life, the SEAL, Ryan Job, died in 2009 during surgery in the United States, long after he and Kyle had returned from combat.
Matthew Cole, the journalist who wrote the story on Kyle for the Intercept, said on Twitter Wednesday that he twice had his patriotism called into question by Navy officials while reporting his story.
Reporting on Chris Kyle, I twice had my patriotism questioned by Navy officials, who knew his record was inaacurate https://t.co/13n7dY7Z7F
— Matthew Cole (@matthewacole) May 25, 2016
What emerges as a result of the piece is a new layer in a labyrinthine and tragic story about a polarizing individual who served his country with valor, but had flaws that still appear to be surfacing.
The fundamental nuts and bolts of his military service remain unchallenged going into this Memorial Day weekend, however: Kyle fought fiercely in Iraq, was beloved by many peers for his expertise under fire, and is credited with keeping many U.S. troops alive with his marksmanship.