Killing men in the heat of battle is different than killing them one by one while peering through a sniper scope. That makes it personal. You see eyes, expressions—and then you take a breath, hold it, and squeeze the trigger.
Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and U.S. Marine Carlos Hathcock were the two deadliest American snipers in U.S. history, between the two of them killing nearly 300 human beings. A generation apart—Carlos from Vietnam, Chris from Iraq—they were men very much of the same cut. I knew both of them, became friends with each. I wrote about Carlos in One Shot-One Kill; I interviewed Chris for Command Posts and “blurbed” the cover of his book, American Sniper.
I did 13 years in U.S. Army Special Forces and was privileged to know and serve with men of honor and courage like them, men who would—and sometimes did—sacrifice their own lives for their brothers in arms and for “old fashioned” virtues like patriotism, freedom, love of country, and “the girl back home.”
Carlos died relatively young from a disease precipitated by severe burns he encountered in Vietnam. He died quietly with little public fanfare.
Chris, on the other hand, was gunned down by a deranged ex-Marine and died on the nation’s front pages due to the manner of his death and because of his best-selling book that became the movie American Sniper, one of the most popular films ever.
Predictably, a howl erupted from the usual suspects condemning Chris as a “Nazi,” as a “killer,” as “anything but a hero.” All from slobs physically and intellectually without the capacity to understand that warriors like him have protected and maintained societies through history. From effete talking heads who would likely faint if they suffered a paper cut. From Hollywood geese who cackle and huddle together whenever a “real man” walks into the room. . .
Only a very small percentage of Americans have ever worn a military uniform. About one percent of politicians have ever served. Warriors are a breed apart, separate from the society they defend. In many ways they are resented and envied in an age that does not understand their selfless values.
Chris and Carlos were each humble men with a quiet, unassuming courage. No braggadocio, no loud-mouthed cocktail party scenes, no desire to be the center of attention. Polite, respectful, generous. . . Real heroes are like that. They fought and returned to family and friends.
Why? I asked each of them. Why did you do it? How could you kill like that?
“It was necessary,” they said, in almost the exact same words. “I was saving the lives of my friends, of other Americans. My regret is that I could not save all of them.”
A form of sacrifice that those who live protected lives will perhaps never understand.
U.S. Army Ranger Joe Kapp, another friend, is a man like Carlos and Chris.
“My heart almost stopped beating when I heard my artificial leg bouncing off rock and sliding back downhill toward the enemy. . . Maybe Ranger Regiment was right all along: War was no place for an amputee. . .”