The shocking and bizarre death of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle – at the hands of a fellow combat vet – in Texas last February was one of the saddest tales to come out of the post-9/11 wars on the homefront. Battleland was able to write it up for Time the next week, but there’s only so much reporting that can be done under the pressure of a weekly deadline.
That’s why it’s good news that Anthony Swofford, the Marine author of Jarhead, has helped flesh out the tragedy in Death of an American Sniper. It’s a 15,000-word e-short into the killing of one of the deadliest snipers — with 160 claimed kills — in U.S. military history. Battleland conducted this email chat with him over the weekend:
What is the most surprising thing you discovered in your reporting and writing of Death of an American Sniper?
I came to really like Chris Kyle, a man I’d never met; a man I’d never be able to meet.
In the aftermath of his death there was a lot of hyperbolic talk from both ends of the political spectrum. Of course, his pro-gun stance invited this, and he was courted by the gun lobby, celebrated, even.
But this was all about the persona, not the person. I spent three months reporting and writing the piece, and when I finished, I very much missed the man.
If he had this kind of power over me, a man he’d never met, I can only imagine the grief all of his friends, and especially his family, have been suffering.
I also discovered that a private contracting company can be in possession of massive amounts of firepower, including two M2 Browning machine guns, and that they can store this weaponry in a downtown Dallas office building. I mention in the essay that just the sight of the M2 is menacing and sexy. It’s also a bit chilling.
What did you learn about the ex-Marine named Eddie Ray Routh who allegedly killed Kyle and Kyle’s friend, Chad Littlefield?
Eddie Ray Routh and Chris Kyle had a lot in common.
If they had not gone to a gun range that day, let’s say they’d played 18 holes of golf instead, I imagine they would have become good friends.
Kyle cared deeply for other vets and spent a lot of his time helping them out. That’s why he picked Eddie up that day. Whatever happened in Eddie’s head that day, we might never know, but Eddie killed a man who could have been a real help to him.
Eddie had a safety net of family and friends that really loved him, but he managed to dodge their help. His friend Greg Lindamood, a guy who hung out with Eddie the night before the murders, stressed to me again and again what a nice guy Eddie was.
He was totally confused and flummoxed by these events, and sad, and angry at Eddie. And when he couldn’t say anything more, he said to me, “Look—Eddie drove a 1972 Volkswagen Beetle painted like a ladybug.”
Any doubt that Routh killed the two men?
I don’t have any doubt. Only the great horrible question — Why?
Why did someone as savvy as Kyle bring a troubled young man to a shooting range?
I don’t think Kyle knew just how troubled Eddie was.
I believe that if Kyle knew that Eddie had just gotten out of the psych ward at the VA he would not have taken him shooting. Kyle had a lot of respect for weapons and how to treat them and who should be allowed to handle them.
He was a smart man.
He would not have knowingly handed a loaded weapon to an unstable guy.
I’m guessing Eddie’s mother said, “My Marine son is having some trouble,” and that she didn’t get more specific than that.
Tell us what you learned about Kyle’s friend, Chad Littlefield. There had been reports he also served in the military – did he?
My understanding is that he served in the Coast Guard during peacetime. Littlefield and Kyle became neighbors when Kyle got out of the Navy in 2010. He seems to have been a great man, happy father and husband and good citizen.
The killing of Chris Kyle was such a tragedy…did anything good come out of it?
The tragedy is deep.
Kyle was a hero and friend to many vets. But first, he had a wife and two children. And Littlefield had a wife and a daughter.
Those two families lost their dads for no reason.
And Eddie Ray Routh will probably die in a Texas electric chair.
I don’t see anything good, from this vantage point.
If Kyle’s and Littlefield’s deaths can push forward the national discussion about PTSD and soldier reentry after combat, than perhaps some good can come of this dark tragedy.