No American has been more associated with the Navy SEAL mystique than Chris Kyle, known as the deadliest sniper in military history. His bestselling autobiography, American Sniper — a story of honor, glory, and quiet heroism — has sold more than a million copies. The movie adaptation became the highest-grossing war film in American history.
“All told,” Kyle wrote in his book, “I would end my career as a SEAL with two Silver Stars and five Bronze [Stars], all for valor.”
But Kyle, who was murdered by a fellow military veteran several years after leaving the Navy, embellished his military record, according to internal Navy documents obtained by The Intercept. 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.
Current and former Navy SEALs interviewed for this article, who agreed to speak on background because they feared being shunned by their close-knit community, did not dispute Kyle’s heroism in combat, but saw the inflation of his medal count as significant because they consider battlefield embellishments to be dishonorable.