Rancher remembers famous Navy SEAL

March 16, 2013

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The shooting death of Chris Kyle unleashed a wave of patriotic and emotional sentiments across the globe from people who knew the legend of the 38-year-old former Navy SEAL.

One area man fondly remembered Kyle from when he knew him as a rookie ranch hand and college student searching for his place in the world – long before he became the most successful sniper in U.S. military history.

Tommy Houston, owner of the 11,300-acre Houston Ranch that straddles Hood and Erath counties, said he had not seen Kyle since the mid-1990s until they bumped into each other at a cutting horse show in Fort Worth late last year, around Christmas. Somehow the recognition factor kicked in for both men.

“We just kind of looked at each other. (Chris) said, ‘I bet you don’t remember me,’” Houston said. “I said, ‘Sure I do. You’re Chris Kyle. You’re famous. I read your book.’”

In Kyle’s book, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,” (HarperCollins) he wrote that he worked part-time for a man named David Landrum on a ranch in Hood County after he enrolled as a full-time student at Tarleton State University in Stephenville in 1992.

In reality, Landrum was leasing part of Houston’s ranch – even though Kyle apparently believed otherwise at that time.

During their chance meeting in Fort Worth, Houston said he joked to Kyle, “I’m still mad at you for claiming (in the book) that ranch belonged to David Landrum.”

Kyle assured Houston that if he wrote a sequel, he intended to correct the misinformation.

“He was outgoing and extremely personable,” said Houston, 69, who is third-generation owner of the property. “Immediately, you liked him. You couldn’t help but like him. He was a good person. Anybody that knew him would have thought that.”

Kyle was reserved, well-mannered and intelligent, Houston added.

Houston said Kyle didn’t brag when he spoke of the exemplary job he did as a sniper during four combat tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The native Texan – a former SEAL Team 3 chief – was credited with 160 confirmed kills. Some estimates claimed Kyle may have had as many as 255 kills.

“He said they all were justified,” Houston said. “He was protecting America every time he did one. Thank goodness we were fighting it on their soil, and not on ours. He executed it well.”

Sadly, Kyle and his friend, Chad Littlefield, were shot to death on Feb. 2 on a gun range in Erath County. Eddie Ray Routh, a fellow military veteran whom they had reached out to help, was arrested and charged with capital murder.

Houston said the news brought him sadness, particularly knowing Kyle was trying to help other military veterans struggling with problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

A GOOD COWBOY

“He was happy he was back home and doing some good,” Houston said. “He was willing to give his time to those that were having trouble adjusting.”

Kyle indicated in his book that while he was working for Landrum, he just wanted to learn how to be a good cowboy.

“He did, but it was a cold winter and the conditions were tough. That might have changed his mind,” Houston said. “I know it was tough on him. The accommodations were not real good. I don’t think he worked a full year.”

Kyle wrote that the cowboy life was “an easy life,” and stated, “Working on a ranch is heaven.” He did learn about the cowboy way of life from Landrum, and even earned a raise. But he also wrote that Landrum was “a rough man” who would “cuss me out” and say he was worthless.

Kyle’s reaction to Landrum’s attitude gave insight into his mental outlook.

“In my mind, I thought, I’m better than that and I’ll show you,” Kyle wrote, adding, “As it happens, that’s exactly the kind of attitude you need to become a SEAL.”

“He said he endured it, and was better for it,” Houston said.

Kyle, who lived in Midlothian since leaving the Navy in 2009, told Houston he wanted to come to the ranch for a visit – one that never came to be.

“He wanted to look at how it’s changed,” Houston said. “He had good memories and some tough memories.”

After moving to Colorado and working on a ranch there in the winter of 1997-98, Kyle wrote that he later intended to return to Texas to work for Landrum again. Instead, he wrote that he ran into a Navy recruiter who told him, “We want you.”

Houston said it turned out to be a good thing Kyle took that road instead of sticking with ranch life.

“We all needed a hero in these Obama years – and it’s a shame we lost him,” Houston said.

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