A few months ago I posted an open letter, reprinted from the New York Times, by my friend and Red Circle coauthor Brandon Webb, saying goodbye to his best friend Glen Doherty, who was killed in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012.
Today Brandon’s writing appeared in that same Times blog once again, saying goodbye to yet another friend and comrade-in-arms, the legendary Chris Kyle, who was shot and killed on February 2 by a troubled Marine combat veteran he was trying to help. (Text appears below; scroll all the way down for photo of Kyle’s memorial service in Austin.)
Moving thoughts; beautiful writing; sad tidings; tough times.
My heart’s out to you, dude.
* * *
It’s a strange place I find myself these days, in my late 30s, and faced with the reality of friends, SEAL brothers, lost and gone from my life. The most recent include my friend Chris Kyle, who was killed last month, and Glen Doherty, who died six months earlier. I find myself often rereading saved e-mails from the guys because they give me comfort and an occasion for a much-needed laugh or cry, and I’m not afraid to admit the latter.
I spent a decade on SEAL teams and made some of my closest friends there. My generation of SEALs has seen at least 50 members killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, possibly more than any generation since Vietnam. This has affected me, and I struggle to explain it to people. Think about six close friends and imagine them all dead and gone in the span of a few years. These guys were irreplaceable, and they have left huge holes in my life that will not be filled anytime soon.
I first met Chris when he was a new guy on probation in SEAL Team 3. I instantly knew he would go on to do important things. A few years later when I was an instructor and course manager for the SEAL sniper program, Chris and I got to know each other better. I became his friend when we filmed a series on my Web site, sofrep.com, called “Inside The Team Room.” He agreed to do the show for free because he believed in what we were doing, which was to highlight the sacrifice of American war fighters and their families.
We would often kid each other via text about our media appearances. I probably gave him too much of a hard time for his appearance on NBC’s “Stars Earn Stripes.” He called me one night upset that he was getting a lot of heat from our community over the show, saying that he did it to raise awareness of veteran causes and not to make money. I believed him and respected him more for it.
I think Chris and I both shared the struggle of military to civilian transition. We left the teams on top of our game, as chief petty officers with many career opportunities open to us. But we chose family first and left many people scratching their heads at our decisions. We spoke of this often in our short communications.
Chris took no pleasure in taking lives as a sniper, and he doesn’t deserve the criticism that some, including Representative Ron Paul of Texas, have leveled at him. He did what his country asked of him, and did it well. His family also sacrificed greatly and deserved a moment of dignity in his death. As citizens we all share some responsibility for what this country does to defend and protect its borders.
After life in the SEALs, Chris donated profits from his book, American Sniper, to a charity started by the mother of a fallen teammate, Marc Lee, America’s Mighty Warriors.
Chris could have lived his life in privacy and comfort, yet he recognized that veterans who needed help the most were slipping through the bureaucracy of the Department of Veterans Affairs. He chose to continue serving his country, by helping one veteran at a time. And he died doing just that: aiding a troubled veteran.
I managed to avoid the funerals of six teammates. But I stopped avoiding them when Glen was killed in Benghazi, Libya, in September. And I dropped everything to pay my respects to Chris, his family and the great state of Texas.
I flew into Dallas early Monday morning, and rushed to catch a taxi to Cowboys Stadium, arriving just in time for the memorial to start. I was amazed to see the thousands of people who showed up to pay homage to Chris. After the memorial, I met up with a fellow SEAL, Drago, a Polish immigrant. In America, he joined the Navy and went through SEAL training in his 30s. At the memorial, he delivered a wreath from our Polish Special Operations brothers, the GROM, who served with Chris in Iraq. We embraced outside the stadium, each knowing the gravity of the loss in the way those who have served and lost close friends know.
The next day, Drago and I shared the three-hour drive to Austin, where a private funeral service took place at a state cemetery. We were running late and were pulled over for doing 100 mph in what must have been the tiniest rental car on the lot. We looked ridiculous in that little car, but the Texas state trooper let us go once he found out where we were headed.
In Austin, we had only to follow the people lining the streets with American flags to find our way to the funeral. It was an unusually gorgeous and warm Texas winter day, and we both fell into formation with the active and retired SEALs in attendance. I don’t know how many of the guys were at the service, but it took the better part of an hour for all of us to pound our SEAL Tridents firmly into Chris’s coffin. It’s a new tradition that I’d rather not have to observe again.
Afterward, the SEALs gathered around Chris, taking a knee, and clasping each other while “Amazing Grace” played on the sound system. I found myself overcome with grief, but also a strange joy, as I wept in the presence and comfort of the brotherhood. When the song ended, a designated SEAL called out a firm and loud, “CHRIS … KYLE!” In unison, we thundered back, “HOOYAH CHRIS KYLE!” so loudly that I think we could be heard miles away.
Chris had clearly found peace and purpose being with his family and helping veterans, his new mission in life. He is a true hero, and I’m proud to call him my friend.