DENHAM SPRINGS, LA (WAFB) - A contract nurse who's worked her way across the country and a retired Army Ranger could not be more different, but both got to know America's deadliest sniper, Chris Kyle, each in their own way, and both said the controversy swirling around the movie about his life is beneath the quiet protector.
"North, west, south, east - you couldn't miss that son-of-a-gun," said Chance Vaughn, a retired US Army Ranger. He was huge!"
Vaughn smiled ear to ear as he talked about the time he first saw Chris Kyle.
"I said, 'Oh my gosh. That's the biggest Navy Seal I ever seen!'" Vaughn recalled.
It was on Kyle's ranch west of Dallas in late 2009. Through a mutual friend, Kyle had heard of Vaughn's injuries sustained fighting in Iraq and invited Vaughn and a few friends out for a day out on his rifle range. Through the course of their conversations, Vaughn said he learned they had more in common than just four tours in some of Iraq's most dangerous cities - Kyle as a Navy SEAL sniper, Vaughn as part of a Special Operations force going house-to-house looking for what he called "bad guys."
One of those bad guys was the reason Vaughn had to retire from the Army. Vaughn and his team were on a night mission in 2007. They had surrounded a small house and part of the team made entry. After clearing the bottom floor, Vaughn and a couple of members of his team went upstairs to secure the second floor. A bad guy was waiting inside a darkened bedroom.
"He shot me first in my left arm. He was back in this bedroom. I couldn't see. It was dark, of course. I shot him and he shot me at the same time, right here with a .45 pistol," Vaughn explained.
The shot caught Vaughn just below the corner of his left eye. The blast took part of his brain with it. Today, he wears a scar from his forehead back to the base of his skull beneath a coat of stubbly hair and a Chris Kyle Frog Foundation cap.
"This is titanium. Half my brain was blown away," Vaughn said.
Vaughn said the ironic thing is he only knew of Kyle the legend when he was in Iraq, even though they were in the same cities at the same time and Kyle likely watched over Vaughn and his team many times.
Lynn McMorris met Kyle in 2010 under completely different circumstances. She is a nurse by profession, but her passion these days is the Never Quit, Never Forget Gala in Livingston Parish. It is a yearly gala held to honor Livingston Parish veterans and their families and raise money for veteran charities.
"He was actually physically imposing," McMorris said of her first encounter with Kyle. "Tall, good-looking west Texas country boy with a fairly soft voice and a wry, dry sense of humor and a great big laugh."
It was the gala's second year and another famous soldier, Marcus Luttrell, whose story of survival in the Afghan desert as part of Operation Red Wing was told in the book and the movie Lone Survivor, helped gala organizers make contact with Kyle.
"Chris volunteered to come and help us raise some money. And he did it on his own dime. He showed up and we had to fight with him to take any kind of reimbursement for any of his expenses. He really assumed the role of protector. A larger than life guy, but a quiet protector of those who needed it," McMorris added.
That's why she was so offended by the war of words that erupted on social media with the release of the movie American Sniper, based on Kyle's life and career. Hollywood producer Michael Moore ignited a firestorm when he tweeted to thousands of followers, "My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren't heroes. And invaders r worse."
Others quickly followed suit criticizing dialogue from the movie that had Kyle calling terrorists "savages" and saying that he hated them.
"What would it take for you to kill a man? I don't think you could pull the trigger unless you hated someone and thought those things," McMorris stated.
She was so angered by it that she took to the internet and poured her thoughts and her heart into an essay about the Chris Kyle she knew.
"He lit up when he talked about his kids, just like any good man would. I was struck by the way he looked at [his wife] Taya. It's a love story in one snapshot. In the way that he walked through a crowd with her. He was very protective. In everything he did, he assumed the role of protector," McMorris said.
"Chris doesn't deserve to be used as a tool for anyone's agenda now that he can't defend himself and state his own case. I think it's unfair. He did kill, but he killed to protect life. He killed to protect his brothers. We can't count the number of lives he saved. That's impossible. All we can count is the number he killed, so that's what gave him notoriety," she added.
Seven years after he was almost killed in Iraq, Vaughn is still in rehab for his body and his speech. He said his wife, who regularly drills him on his pronunciation and memory, is his toughest trainer. For his physical re-hab, Vaughn exercises three times a week in a small shed behind his Denham Springs home. He works out on equipment given to him by Kyle. The way Vaughn sees it, it's Kyle's way of watching over him at home as he did in-country.
"I beyond love them. I would not be here if not for those snipers watching," Vaughn said.
McMorris sees Kyle's life a little differently, but with the same respect for him and the military brothers Kyle watched over.
"Chris was able to pull the trigger, but he didn't get away unscathed. No one does," McMorris said.
She said the movie does a good job depicting the struggle to transition home to Kyle, the family man, who she saw in her two days with him.
"He needed another mission. He needed to continue being the protector," she explained.
She said Kyle found that mission when he began inviting veterans home like Vaughn to his ranch.
"We need to follow in his example in serving those who served," McMorris added.
Kyle was killed on his ranch Feb. 2, 2012, allegedly by a veteran he was trying to help.
Eddie Ray Routh goes on trial for that crime this week. Before he died, Kyle and his wife, Taya, founded the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation to help the families of first responders and his military brothers. It continues his role as a quiet protector.