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Ex-SEAL sniper remembered as servant to others

Feb. 11, 2013 - 07:36PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 11, 2013 - 07:36PM  |  
Christopher Kyle's wife, Taya, and his two children follow behind his casket Feb. 11 during the recession of a memorial service for Kyle at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Thousands attended the public memorial service for Kyle, the former Navy SEAL sniper who was shot to death at a Texas shooting range.
Christopher Kyle's wife, Taya, and his two children follow behind his casket Feb. 11 during the recession of a memorial service for Kyle at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Thousands attended the public memorial service for Kyle, the former Navy SEAL sniper who was shot to death at a Texas shooting range. (Brandon Wade / The Associated Press)
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Christopher Kyle's wife, Taya, is escorted to her seat Feb. 11 after memorializing her husband during a service at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Thousands attended the public memorial service for Kyle, the former Navy SEAL sniper who was shot to death at a Texas shooting range. (Brandon Wade / The Associated Press)

ARLINGTON, Texas — As military service members carried the flag-draped coffin out of Cowboys Stadium, the sounds of bagpipes echoed and people saluted Chris Kyle, an ex-Navy SEAL sniper who dedicated his post-military career to helping other veterans.

Widow Taya Kyle spoke through tears earlier, surrounded by her husband's military friends, her voice trembling as she described to a crowd of thousands what "my slow-talking Texas man" had meant to his family, friends and country.

"Chris, there isn't enough time to tell you everything you mean to me and everything you taught me," the widow said Monday during a two-hour memorial service for Kyle, a decorated sniper and best-selling author who was slain earlier this month at a gun range.

She described herself as broken but said the family will "put one foot in front of the other" to get through their grief. She told her two children that they will remember Kyle's silly side, Texas twang and prayers they prayed together.

Nearly 7,000 people, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her husband, attended the service. Dozens of military personnel and others were seated in front of the podium near the Dallas Cowboys' star at midfield, where Kyle's coffin was placed at the beginning.

His friends and fellow service members told mourners that Kyle was more than an excellent sniper feared by U.S. enemies — he was a dedicated family man known for his sense of humor, compassion, selflessness and generosity. Kyle completed four tours of duty in Iraq and wrote the best-selling book "American Sniper."

Some who served with him said that Kyle was a man, myth and legend because he would do anything for his fellow SEALs.

Childhood friends recalled his mischievous side, and one said he and Kyle played with BB guns as kids — and Kyle "wasn't a good shot back then."

Bo French, an executive at Craft International, the security training company Kyle started after he left the Navy, told those gathered that Kyle had a passion for helping others. Kyle also founded a nonprofit, FITCO Cares, that provides at-home fitness equipment for emotionally and physically wounded veterans.

Pictures of Kyle with his family and SEALs were shown on a large screen in the stadium. The back page of the memorial service program included copies of handwritten notes from Kyle's young kids: "I will miss your heart. I will love you even if you died" from his daughter, and "I miss you a lot. One of the best things that has happened to me is you" from his son. The children signed them "Baby Girl" and "Bubba."

After Taya Kyle's eulogy, country singer Randy Travis sang "Whisper My Name," which he said Taya Kyle had told him was a meaningful song for the couple, and "Amazing Grace."

Kyle's funeral service is scheduled for Tuesday. He will be buried at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin after a 200-mile funeral procession.

Iraq War veteran Eddie Ray Routh, 25, has been charged in the Feb. 2 killings of Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield at a North Texas gun range. Routh is being held in Erath County on $3 million bond.

Taya Kyle spoke kindly of Littlefield during the service Monday, saying he was the "effortless, no expectations" friend that her husband needed.

Many said before Monday's service that they didn't know the 38-year-old Chris Kyle. Air Force Master Sgt. Kevin Phillips said he came from his Fort Worth home to honor "a brother in arms."

Esperanza Meza, who is in the Texas State Guard, said: "I'm here to pay my respects to him, and also for all of those who have fallen while serving this country."

Travis Cox, director of FITCO Cares, has said the men apparently had been helping Routh work through post-traumatic stress disorder.

Kyle, Littlefield and Routh arrived together at the Rough Creek Lodge shooting range, about 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth, authorities say. Routh later fled in Kyle's truck and went to his sister's home.

According to a search warrant, Routh told his sister and brother-in-law that the men "were out shooting target practice and he couldn't trust them so he killed them before they could kill him." Routh's sister called the police, describing her brother as "psychotic." Routh was arrested after a short police chase.

Routh's brother-in-law told authorities that Routh had recently been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

One of Routh's attorneys, J. Warren St. John, said his client had been released from the Dallas Veterans Affairs hospital against his family's wishes just two days before the shootings.

Littlefield's funeral was held Friday in Midlothian. Afterward, Littlefield's relatives said the outing with Routh was intended to be therapeutic.

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