The Eleventh Gun . . .

We have a trade edition of American Gun publishing soon, and it includes an essay on Chris and some thoughts about what the "eleventh gun" would be. Here's the start:

With the publication of American Sniper in January 2012, Chris Kyle rocketed to worldwide fame. Suddenly, the easy-going Texas cowboy, ranch hand, bronco buster, Navy SEAL, weapons instructor, father, husband, son, brother became known to the world as THE AMERICAN SNIPER, all capital letters, all bold print.

It was a distinction he’d never sought. Urged and prodded to tell his story, he finally decided to go ahead not because he felt his experiences were unique, but because they reflected things all servicemen and women had been through during the war in Iraq. He specifically wanted to honor two men who’d died with him during the conflict, and in fact decided that the lion’s share of the money for the book would go to them; he never took a cent from the book that made him famous.

The success of the story did more than honor the fallen. It gave people a way to thank brothers, sons, neighbors who’d gone off to war. It gave them a person who could stand in not just for lost soldiers but for others who’d served without fanfare or acclaim. From the moment the book came out, Chris became the neighbor who’d gone off to war but had never been thanked. He became the spouse they hadn’t entirely understood, the son-in-law or uncle who’d struggled to adjust without complaining. People came to see him by the hundreds not so much to buy the book, not even to shake his hand, but simply to thank him – and through him every man and woman in uniform who’d sacrificed time, money, and happiness for our country. With the publication of the book, Chris’s name became synonymous with service to the country. There were few places he could go without be recognized and fussed over. In return, he’d usually respond with an aw-shucks grin and a bit of shrug, as if to say I don’t really deserve this, but thanks for thinking about our country and our service people in general. I’m not really supposed to be famous, but if it helps others, so be it.

But Chris was famous before the book came out. Granted, it was on a much smaller and different scale. He was already a legend in the SEAL community, known as the guy who had killed well over 150 enemy combatants with precision marksmanship. Soldiers and Marines who’d been in Ramadi and some of the other hell holes where he’d done his job knew Chris as the “man on the rooftop” who saved their lives, or made their job safer. He was the guy who’d run up the street under fire to drag a wounded Marine back to safety, and to rescue stranded journalists. Most didn’t know his name, but they certainly knew that he had been there.

And then there was his fame within a small circle of family and friends, where Chris was well-known as the guy you could call on for backup or a helping hand. He’d put up relatives who needed a place to stay; he’d cleared trees from random roads and driveways after hurricanes. He’d proven that you could make a small but significant difference in lives with a smile and a pickup truck. And after the Navy he’d volunteered to help severely wounded veterans rehab and readjust to civilian life on retreats and campouts.
The fame that came from American Sniper widened the circle of people he helped considerably. When the book came out, he was suddenly in great demand to do benefits and offer a few words of encouragement, which he did to the point of exhaustion, generally for free and covering his own expenses. The way he helped really didn’t change; there was just more of it. He still devoted himself to small but significant gestures, whether it was taking an amputee hunting or talking to a kid just back from the war. Fame brought a tsunami of opportunities, but the man at the center of the wave hadn’t changed. Fame had been accidental byproduct of something he had to do, and there was no better proof than the fact that it only helped him do more of what he had done before the world knew who he was.

If American Sniper was a story that had to be told, American Gun was a story Chris wanted to tell. It was a tale, or rather a collection of interwoven tales, that summed up American history and some of the themes critical to the country’s character. It was a story of America told through the prism of tools he knew very well. Most people don’t think of snipers, let alone SEALs, as historians, but to his family and close friends the idea for the book was absolutely Chris. . . .

The book publishes around Memorial Day; you can order it at all the usual outlets.

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