Having been shot through his head in the Iraq war, veteran Chance Vaughn, of Denham Springs, met Chris Kyle in 2011 before the book “American Sniper” made Kyle a household name. One warrior to another, Kyle greeted him memorably.
“He walked up to Chance and put his hands around Chance’s head and said, ‘Wow, man! That is awesome! I’ve never seen anything like that!’” said Matt Reames, who took off Vaughn’s hat to show the scars. “Then, he puts his arm around Chance and said, ‘Anybody messes with him, you answer to me.’ He fell in love with Chance.”
The feeling was mutual, and not just for Vaughn.
The success of director Clint Eastwood’s movie based on Kyle’s book reminds several Baton Rouge area residents of the man known in military circles as “The Legend” before his death in 2013. But they recall him less for his exploits than for his warmth and generosity.
In Vaughn’s case, that generosity was tangible.
An Army Ranger staff sergeant, Vaughn, 32, was wounded in 2007 in Mosul. Surgery saved his life, and four years of therapy followed.
Reames, who with his wife, Danielle, started the annual Never Quit Never Forget gala in 2011 in Baton Rouge, brought Vaughn to Texas to meet Kyle. Vaughn mentioned wanting to work out with weights. Vaughn didn’t know that Kyle had created a project with the FITCO Cares Foundation to provide free in-home fitness equipment to disabled veterans.
“Chris said, ‘Chance, don’t you worry about it. Give me your name. Give me your address. It’s all I need,’” Vaughn recalled. “The next week, somebody called me and said how much room do I have for a gym. … He got me all kinds of awesome stuff, all free, too. Brand spanking new.
“The next time I saw him, I saw him for two hours and probably hugged him for an hour and 45 minutes,” Vaughn said. “He was a real good buddy of mine.”
Reames, who lived in Baton Rouge for eight years until moving to Houston in 2013, had attended a 2010 gala for the Lone Survivor Foundation, which was started by Marcus Luttrell, a Navy SEAL and the only survivor of a 2005 mission to capture a Taliban leader in Afghanistan. Reames told another SEAL how much he respected the training such special forces warriors go through.
“He said, ‘You want to meet the toughest guy here,’” Reames said. “I was looking in the direction of this one guy, and he’s, like, ‘No, it ain’t him. … Chris! Come here, Chris.’ This big ol’ Texas guy comes up and introduces himself, ‘I’m Chris Kyle.’ I knew who he was when he said his full name. I’d read a story about him.
“At the time, Danielle and I didn’t know any of these people. It was kind of like meeting a comic book superhero.”
Kyle is the most prolific sniper in U.S. military history, with 160 confirmed kills, often to prevent attacks on Marines. He was shot twice and survived several IED explosions.
He was different as a civilian.
“My daughter got sick when we were bringing him to the airport the weekend of the gala,” Danielle Reames said, referring to a 2012 event in Baton Rouge at which Kyle appeared. “He called and texted to check on her to see how she was doing. Just very, very caring and unassuming.
“At the same time, he had this horrific past that was very much a part of him, and he was very much a Navy SEAL,” she said. “The first night we met him, most of it was lots of joking and lots of laughter and funny, but he became visibly emotional when they talked about Ryan Job (a fellow SEAL who had been severely wounded and died after returning home) passing, so you would get little glimpses of the scars that he carried.”
“You’re dealing with a guy who really, deep in his core, he was going to be a protector of others,” said Dr. Beau Clark, East Baton Rouge Parish coroner, who helped organize the first Never Quit Never Forget gala. “That’s probably why the military was a draw, because he knew he could protect the country, protect his fellow soldier from an emotional standpoint, working with veterans, kind of like being a big brother to them.”
Kyle and another veteran, Chad Littlefield, were killed Feb. 2, 2013, at a shooting range. Eddie Ray Routh, a Marine veteran they were trying to help through PTSD, is accused of shooting them.
The movie’s notoriety has led to criticism of Kyle, which disturbs those who knew him.
“He was a very good man,” said Lynn McMorris, who met him through the local galas. “Troubled, but a good man who in his own way was wrestling with the demons of war and still trying to care for his brothers. I watched him after the gala was over, drinking beers and rough housing with the other veterans in attendance. True fact, put 20 little boys together and sooner or later they play soldier. Put 20 soldiers together and sooner or later they play like little boys.”