Johnny Walker and Chris Kyle . . .
I first heard about Johnny Walker from Chris Kyle when we were working on American Sniper. We were looking at some photos from one of his deployments in Iraq when a face popped on the screen that I didn't recognize.
"Who's that?" I asked.
"That's the only Iraqi I ever trusted with a gun," said Chris.
He told me the story of this incredible Iraqi "terp" (interpreter) who not only kept up with the SEALs but at times led the way on their operations. He wasn't sure where Johnny was - if I'm remembering correctly, he thought he was either dead or still in Iraq - which might have amounted to the same thing. I ended up writing about Johnny in American Sniper, but since I thought he was still in Iraq (if he was alive), I disguised him.
Over a year later, Chris was in San Diego doing a book event when he looked out into the audience and saw a tall, rangy character with a penetrating stare offset by a goofy grin.
Chris made Johnny stand up and told the crowd a tiny bit about what Johnny had done with the SEALs. Johnny got a standing ovation.
Shortly after that, Chris got a hold of our editor at Harper Collins and basically ordered him to publish a book on Johnny. I came along for the ride.
We'd been working on the book for six or seven months when Chris was shot; in fact, I was supposed to leave to see Johnny the next day. Johnny was devastated; he'd lost a brother.
The funny thing is, Johnny didn't want to talk about Chris in Code Name: Johnny Walker; he was afraid people would think that he was exploiting Chris's death for his own purposes. Even though I knew that wouldn't be true, I had to respect his wishes. We do talk about Chris in the book, but we very consciously downplay the relationship.
That is the SEAL way, after all. These guys are heroes, but hate to do anything that, in their minds, might - emphasis on might - make them possibly look conceited or like braggarts. And they don't really care if you don't know what they've done -- they know, and that's what counts.
Which is the same for Johnny.
The publisher is planning some publicity events in connection with the paperback edition of Code Name, and I'm hoping Johnny will talk a little bit more about Chris and how much he meant to him. It's not bragging when you're telling the truth.