Why the Chris Kyle Statue in Odessa Has a Longhorn Cap


To the scores of people who’ve already visited it, the recently unveiled bronze statue of Chris Kyle—one of the first honoring a veteran of the Iraq War or War in Afghanistan in the United States—is a fitting tribute to an American hero. To the citizens of Odessa, where the statue sits, it’s an acknowledgment of a hometown hero. And the cherry on top for Longhorns, so to speak, is the burnt-orange logo emblazoned on his cap.

Kyle’s legacy is a complicated one, fraught with conflicting medal counts, partisan flame wars, and, ultimately, a tragic murder. As the subject of American Sniper, a massively popular and divisive Clint Eastwood-directed war film based on Kyle’s memoir of the same name, Kyle was transformed from a man who embodied the mythology of the Navy SEALS to a symbol of U.S. involvement in foreign wars under the Bush administration, and the ethics tangled up in that involvement.

Politics and the fog of war aside, Kyle is the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history. He was shot, survived helicopter crashes and multiple IED attacks during his four tours of Iraq, and, in a tragic twist of irony, was shot and killed by a fellow American veteran at a shooting range in Erath County, Texas, in February 2013.

He was also, despite growing up an A&M fan who eventually enrolled at Tarleton State University, a devout Longhorn fan, so much so that he sometimes donned a burnt-orange cap in combat in lieu of his helmet. According to his widow, Taya, his reasoning was simple.

“When he moved to Southern California for the military, he wanted to show Texas pride in a more recognizable way,” she wrote to me in an email. “He realized the Longhorn symbol was his answer.”

Eventually, Chris became a diehard Longhorn fan, so much so that an upsetting football game kept him up at night. Tara says he also couldn’t sleep after the Longhorns won the 2006 Rose Bowl over USC. The hat has become inextricably linked with Kyle, who felt safe and connected to his home when he was fighting in a war on the other side of the world.

“Chris had more baseball hats than anyone I’ve ever met,” Taya says. “His Longhorn hat was special. He wore it overseas in battle, at home, everywhere. It was the saltiest, dirtiest, most well-loved hat he had.”

So when Kirk Edwards, BS ’81, Life Member, and an ardent fan of Eastwood’s film set out to memorialize the Odessa-born Kyle with a 15-foot bronze statue in Odessa, one instruction to the sculptor was clear: He should be wearing that same hat.

“Everyone insisted on the Longhorn hat,” Edwards says. “If this would have been an Aggie hat, I wouldn’t have done the project.”

Edwards commissioned Wyoming artist Vick Payne to create the statue, which was unveiled this past July. More than 1,000 people showed up to take in the towering statue, including numerous groups of veterans. Edwards says an ambulance pulled up after the ceremony was over, and a man in a gurney was lowered down and wheeled to the six-foot base of the Kyle statue. He was a local 90-year-old veteran of the Korean War who took a detour before leaving for the VA Medical Center in Big Spring. “All he wanted to do,” Edwards says, “is touch that statue before he left Odessa.”

Despite the project’s budget ballooning from “a couple hundred thousand dollars” to over $1 million and taking multiple years to complete, Edwards is proud to memorialize both Kyle and his alma mater.

“What’s been really cool is the emotion from veterans,” Edwards says. “It’s [one of] the first monuments to an Iraq or Afghanistan vet in the country, and there’s a Longhorn hat on top.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story reported that the Chris Kyle statue was believed to be the first honoring a veteran of the War in Iraq or the Afghanistan War. A bronze statue of Nathan Chapman, the first American soldier killed during Operation Enduring Freedom, was unveiled and dedicated at the Williamson County Courthouse in Georgetown, Texas in 2006.


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