With Memorial Day fast approaching, it makes me feel slightly dirty to wade into this Chris Kyle “award embellishment” controversy — reported first by The Intercept — and already addressed here on SOFREP by Brandon Webb. Regardless of this author’s inclination to stay away from this kind of drama, I do think a few points are worth making here.
First, I think Brandon has it about right, and I will not try to speak for him, or repeat his words here. You can read his thoughts on it in this article. He knew Chris, whereas I did not. He has much better insight into the man, and I believe him when he says Chris was a humble, heroic man who fought with valor for his country.
Second, I feel compelled to weigh in not on whether or not Chris has committed an act of “stolen valor” by possibly lying about one of his combat awards. As far as I am concerned, at worst, the dude is guilty of embellishment of his war record. I will take a huge risk by throwing it out there that he is not the first, nor will he be the last, to do so.
Some who fought for their country choose to never speak about what they did, the horrors they saw, or the acts of courage (or cowardice) they may have committed in war. Frankly, as far as I am concerned, that is a right they have earned through their service. It does not mean they do not deserve to be challenged by their fellow fighting men and women, if they commit an egregious act of embellishment, but let the former challenge them. Civilians should stay out of it, in my opinion. As far as the press, they do have a right to report on such things, and so be it, as long as they do so in a responsible way.
That is where I think the Intercept article is flawed. While the article did address the discrepancy between Kyle’s DD214 and his personnel record, they did so in a cursory, shallow way. This point probably deserves an article in and of itself. Why was Kyle’s DD214 wrong? After all, is not that the authoritative record of one’s military service, as far as the civilian world is concerned?
The DD214 is the document a veteran presents to prove his service, when seeking a job after leaving the military. The DD214 is the only document one is given upon discharge from the military, to prove their service. It is an important document. We are all told to make 10 copies, and keep them safe and secure in case we ever need to provide records of our service, even years down the road. I provided one fully nine years after getting out of the Navy, when I applied for a job with the local fire department.
So, why was Kyle’s DD214 wrong? Did his last SEAL command simply make a mistake? Why did they think he had earned two Silver Stars, if his personnel record only showed one? Was one of his nominations downgraded to a Bronze Star? Did he even know that, if it was?
Simply put, this is possibly a case of embellishment mixed with clerical/administrative error. Perhaps Chris thought he was written up for a Silver Star, or that one of his Bronze Stars was being considered for an upgrade to Silver. Such things happen, and the military is in the process now, as has been reported, of reviewing hundreds of awards for consideration of an upgrade.
What is true is that Kyle would have known that he was not physically presented with a second Silver Star, if in fact he was not. There would be no confusion there. Either he was, or was not, presented a second award. I would think that would be hard to forget, for even the most decorated serviceman. So, therein perhaps lies the truth of the accusation against him of embellishment.
In truth, then, it is kind of murky, with this issue of the erroneous DD214. What is not in dispute, however, is that Kyle showed great valor in combat. He was not inventing his valor out of whole cloth. He was not creating a heroic persona for himself from scratch. This is more like Jerry Rice saying he was the league leader in receiving yards three times, when he was really only twice, in reality. It does not mean that Rice was not a great player. It would be simply a case of embellishing an already stellar career.
That, in a nutshell, is probably what is happening here. I leave it to Kyle’s brothers-in-arms to judge him. That is not for me to do. I never served with him in the SEAL Teams, or on the field of combat. I am much less comfortable, though, with the wider civilian world — and press — judging him in the court of public opinion. That is the part that makes me feel this whole story is unseemly and crass. Kyle deserves better than that, especially this Memorial Day.
(Photo courtesy of Landon Haston, Texan News Service)