WASHINGTON — Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, the late famed “American Sniper,” overstated the number of medals he was awarded for heroism, according to a Navy investigation released Friday.
The Navy personnel form that Kyle signed and initialed when he left the Navy in 2009 credited him with two Silver Star and six Bronze Star medals with “V” device for valor, according to the document. Kyle, whose best-selling book American Sniper was later made into a Hollywood blockbuster, wrote that he had been awarded two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars. He was killed in 2013 by a veteran he had mentored.
However, the Navy’s investigation of Kyle’s record, which began in 2012, determined that Kyle had commendations for one Silver Star and four Bronze Star medals with “V” devices. The service issued a revised form, known as the DD 214, on June 14. The Silver Star is the military’s third-highest award; the Medal of Honor and Service Cross are the first and second.
Kyle had made other, unverifiable claims, including his account of shooting dozens of rioters in New Orleans in the chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina. He also wrote that he had punched a man later identified as Jesse Ventura, the former Minnesota governor. A jury awarded Ventura $1.8 million in a defamation lawsuit against Kyle’s estate.
“After thoroughly reviewing all available records, the Navy determined an error was made in the issuance of Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle’s form DD214,” Ensign Marc Rockwellpate, a Navy spokesman, said in a statement. “Specifically, the DD 214 did not accurately reflect the decorations and awards to which Kyle was officially entitled. After notifying his family of the error, the Navy issued a corrected copy of the DD 214, which accurately reflects Kyle’s years of honorable and extraordinary Navy service.”
It is unclear who made the original error, and it appears to be a clerical mistake that was not corrected by Kyle or other Navy officials. The Navy is automating its personnel record system to prevent such errors.
Errors in the DD 214 form, the official certificate of a sailor’s service, are commonplace, one of the officials said. In 2015, the Navy made more than 3,800 corrections to sailors’ forms.
Kyle’s original form had other errors, including the omission of his Navy expert rifle medal. Indeed, the re-issued form from the Navy Personnel Command misspells rifle. The Navy is stressing to sailors the need to scrutinize the form before signing it. The DD 214, among other things, provides documentation of preference for veterans in hiring.
"This whole issue is very troubling and inexplicable, particularly because Kyle seemingly had no need to falsify his military records," said Dwight Mears, an Army veteran and former professor at West Point who has researched the military awards process. "It isn’t clear that he stood to benefit any more from the misrepresentations, as his service was impressive and almost equally as noteworthy without the addition of any unearned awards."
“THIS IS AN IMPORTANT FORM,” the header on Kyle's DD 214 reads. “SAFEGUARD IT.” Kyle’s revised form shows that he belonged to SEAL Team Three, based at North Island, Calif. His primary specialty: SEAL, and small arms marksmanship instructor. Box 24, near the bottom of the form, reads Character of Service. It's filled with one word: HONORABLE.