Jeff Kyle reflects on the good times with Chris, his late hero brother.
Jeff Kyle sat in his office chair, smiling broadly as he pushed back his gimme cap, and remembered the good times…
There was that cold, icy morning at his family’s hunting lease in Brown County, Texas, when he was 8, sharing a deer blind with his mother. Nearby, his dad and 12-year-old brother, Chris, sat in another blind. On that foggy dawn, it was Jeff who saw an eight-point buck amble into a nearby clearing, raised his rifle, and made the shot.
Though his older brother had been hunting longer, he had never bagged a buck. Jeff had won the day.
Competition bonded the Kyle boys, from childhood games to teenage bulldogging and bronc riding in West Texas rodeo arenas to working together as young ranch hands. Then, both decided to enlist, Chris with the Navy, Jeff the Marines. In time, the four-year age gap closed, then all but disappeared.
“Sure, there were times when we fought, like all brothers do, but we were close. We always had each other’s back,” Jeff recalls. “We loved each other.”
Which led to another fond recollection: When he entered Midlothian High School, the younger Kyle was faced with a traditional freshman initiation. In the school foyer there was a lifesize statue of a panther, the school mascot. New male students were required to battle with upperclassmen determined to subdue them and hoist them onto the bronze statue.
On that first day, Chris, who had graduated the previous spring, was on hand to watch. In his hand were several bills that he proclaimed would go to anyone able to get his little brother atop the mascot.
None were successful.
The elder Kyle pocketed his money, gave his brother an approving nod, then left.
Then, as his thoughts fast-forward to a February evening in 2013, past his eighth years in the Marine Corp, seeing his brother only on leaves before he too ended his service career, Jeff Kyle’s smile disappears. The memory turns somber.
His wife, Amy, was putting daughters Brintley and eight-day-old Leighton to bed when a phone call came from his father. “Chris is gone,” was all he said.
“Gone where?” Jeff knew that since publication of his brother’s bestselling autobiography, American Sniper, he had traveled constantly, to speaking engagements, book promotions and media interviews.
“He’s gone,” his father repeated.
In time, details slowly came from a breaking voice: Chris and a friend had taken a troubled Marine vet — who had been in and out of mental hospitals since his discharge — out for a day at a shooting range. There, Chris and companion Chad Littlefield had been shot and killed by a schizophrenic 25-year-old, Eddie Ray Routh.
Woven into that tragedy was a life change for Jeff Kyle. Now 40 and working in research and development for Robinson, Texas-based Emco Supply (providers of tactical gear for military and law enforcement), he lives daily with his brother’s legacy. While an Oscar-nominated movie was being made of Chris’ military career, while the Texas Governor proclaimed the date of his untimely death as Chris Kyle Day, Jeff Kyle was being summoned to step into the spotlight.
“I felt I was suddenly living in my brother’s shadow.”
“It was an uncomfortable feeling,” he admits. “I felt I was suddenly living in my brother’s shadow.” He felt it when NASCAR officials informed him they would like for him to travel to Indianapolis for the running of what they had named the Jeff Kyle Sprint Cup race, when the major league Texas Rangers invited him to throw out a first pitch before a sellout crowd, when a small high school in Montana asked him to deliver the commencement address at its graduation ceremonies. There was a steady request for him to give speeches and media interviews.
“I was talking about it to a good friend one day,” he says, “and he told me, ‘You’ve got to live well for your brother, make him proud.’ That helped. It made sense to me.”
Today, the speeches he gives are easier, more polished. He still doesn’t write them; he talks from the heart — about his brother and the respect returning veterans should command. It has become his mission.
When his parents, Wayne and Deby, established the American Valor Foundation five years ago to offer aid to military veterans and first responders, Jeff became president of its board of directors. “We’re facilitators,” he says, “helping in any way we can, arranging medical treatment, sponsoring therapy sessions, organizing fundraisers to help get mortgage payments and medical bills paid, establishing gym memberships — whatever it takes to get families on their feet and functioning.”
“There were a lot of things Chris wanted to do and I’m going to continue to do what I can to see that they get done.”
And he does so with his late brother constantly in mind. “I’m reminded of him every day,” Jeff says. With the passage of time, it is the good times, the fond memories, that he most often thinks about. “There were a lot of things Chris wanted to do and I’m going to continue to do what I can to see that they get done.”
On Jeff’s personal to-do list is asking Texas Governor Greg Abbott to change Chris Kyle Day from the date of his death to his April 8 birthday. Though he has not yet reached out with his request, Jeff says, “That, I think, would make it a more happy celebration.”
With that thought, the smile returns to his face.
Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL and four-tour Iraq war veteran, was killed on February 2, 2013. Two years later, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared February 2 “Chris Kyle Day.” Jeff Kyle believes the governor should move Chris Kyle day from the day he died, a tragic day, to Chris’ birthday, April 8, a true celebration of the life of an American hero.
Contact Gov. Abbott with your support of this effort: here’s how.
Attend the Chris Kyle Memorial Benefit BBQ and Concert, click here.