I remember the day Chris Kyle died.
I remember, for that matter, the day he did his full-length interview with Bill O’Reilly.
Chief Kyle sat across from the anchor with his cap pulled down on his head as I sat with my family and watched the Devil of Ramadi answer O’Reilly’s questions calmly. We hypothesized about his attire.
We spent the commercials analyzing his answers and our own as to why such a class act, as my father put it, would wear a ball cap that nearly obscured his face on national television.
We ultimately decided that the legend was even then attempting to keep his identity somewhat hidden as the price on his head was intimidating.
Our awe and honor for Kyle may seem strange to some. He is but one sailor who fought amongst many in a war zone halfway around the world.
Those people — sailors, soldiers, marines and airmen — still only amount to less than 1 percent of today’s US population (those fighting or who have fought in these current conflicts), and America is less connected with the military than ever.
So, why did we, an average American family, sit rapt with attention listening to a man who was called a coward by Michael Moore, and who Seth Rogen claimed was part of supposedly Neo-Nazi propaganda?
Because we, by many accounts, are hardly an average family in today’s America. The traditional military brat moves every few years with his or her family, perhaps lives on bases and has one or both parents deploying as a regular part of his or her childhood.
I would never claim to have experienced the challenges and honor associated with such an upbringing, but Navy brat I was labeled, nonetheless, as the makeup of my family changed through the years.
My father and mother both served in the Navy, my father retiring after 30 years as a Captain. Each male cousin in my extended family joined the Navy, Marine Corps or Army when he came of age.
My sister attended the Naval Academy; my brother commissions into the Navy in less than six months, and it happened that I married a Naval Academy graduate myself.
I grew up thinking the Naval Academy campus was the neighborhood park. My dad took me running on the Midshipmen’s endurance course and called Jody calls (military cadences) as we went.
A military uniform was the average dress of most men in any stage of my life, with military service being the highest call of duty and honor one could answer.
The Army-Navy game usually falls on my birthday and anyone who knows me well knows another Navy win is better than most gifts I could be given. It isn’t surprising then, I suppose, that Chief Kyle’s words and life were much higher on my list of heroes than most men.
What is surprising to me, however, is the reception of his biographic film.
I have always been a fan of war movies, perhaps explained simply by the background detailed above. But, as more and more of my family signed up to join in the frays, my perspective on them changed.
I told my then-boyfriend that I wasn’t sure I could watch my favorites anymore, though I had previously seen “Blackhawk Down,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Behind Enemy Lines,” etc. upwards of 10 times each. It was too real, I said, too close to home.
What did I mean by too close to home?
When I read the news of Chief Kyle’s untimely death, I needed to check every media outlet I could find to verify its authenticity.
Too close to home, like calling my dad to report the horrific news as if a loved one had been killed. Too close to home, like the disbelief in my father’s voice when he asked me if I was sure it was true.
I’ve read and heard many opinions on the film honoring Chief Kyle and his family (through marriage, blood and service). It was too violent, too “gung ho” and apparently, depicting the work of cowards (as said by a man whose “bravery” is documented in his work with cameras and Hollywood).
If I may add my two cents as a woman raised surrounded by those who strike a resemblance to Kyle’s looks, build, drive and heart, the reaction to “American Sniper” is blatantly indicative of just how badly America needs more films like this, more men like Kyle, more people connected to our increasingly isolated fighting force.
Military members and their families are flawed like any other group in our world.
They are not superheroes by definition, and certainly are more like any other subset of the population than they are different.
The one way they stray far from the general population is a way clearly evident in “American Sniper,” and any other so-called war movie if one watches with eyes wide open: They believe there is something more important in the world than just their own wants, needs and lives. And, they believe in fighting for it.
The Coast Guard’s rescue swimmers have the motto, “So others may live,” made famous by Kevin Costner’s character in “The Guardian.”
The attempt to answer the call of that four-word phrase is the reason Chief Kyle, and truly every service member I’ve met, wakes up each morning.
The hope that they have done all within their power to do so is what, I believe, allows them to lay their heads down each night.
Those who see “American Sniper” as a simple war movie at best and pro-war propaganda, and an epoch of cowards at worst, have entirely missed the metaphorical boat. I am sad for those who do.
The ability to view the film as such, and any like it, is indication of an inability to appreciate the service and sacrifice of your fellow man.
It is disturbing evidence of an ever-growing tendency of Americans to see the world from no perspective but his own.
It is a travesty among our once-reverent, giving, selfless population to see such willful ignorance, such proud disregard for a battle fought different than his own.
JFK told us to ask what we could do for our country. I’m just hoping America will start to better appreciate those already doing and giving all they can.