Call it American pride.  Call it respect for the deadliest sniper in US history.  Whatever you call it, the scene was something to behold.  Hours before the funeral procession passed through Central Texas, people were out braving the cold (by Texas standards) and rain to pay respect to a fallen hero.

On Monday more than 7,000 people gathered to say goodbye to fallen Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in a memorial service held at Cowboy Stadium. On Tuesday, Kyle's body was driven in a procession from Dallas to Austin, where he will be laid to rest. Along the way, the funeral procession passed thousands of cheering Texans waving flags and holding their children up to see one of Texas' most beloved heroes.

Kyle served four tours of duty in Iraq, where he was known as one of the world’s deadliest snipers. He is confirmed to have killed enemy targets, including one from 1.3 miles away.  The number of American soldiers' lives he saved is far greater.

He documented his military experiences in the best selling book, "American Sniper," which drew world-wide acclaim.

But for the man Iraqi insurgents called the "Devil of Ramadi," it wasn't combat action that ended his life.  It wasn't a roadside bomb or the bullet of an enemy fighter. It was an insurgent attack. It wasn't even an assassin trying to collect the $80,000 bounty he had carried on his head for years.

It was a fellow soldier, who shot Kyle for reasons that are not yet fully known. And that's what makes this so hard to swallow.

Kyle left the Navy in 2009, to spend more time with his family. But even out of the military, Kyle sought to connect to other veterans who had similar experiences.  He worked with a nonprofit, FITCO Cares, which provides support and counseling for veterans.

But he would never get the chance to fulfill his dream of helping fellow warriors.
Kyle was shot to death, along with his friend Chad Littlefield, 35, while at a shooting range on Feb. 2. by Eddie Ray Routh, a 25-year-old former Marine. Police say Kyle had invited Routh to the range as attempt to connect with the former Iraq veteran, who was recently diagnosed with PTSD.

 

On Tuesday, the funeral procession with Kyle's body passed thousands of fellow Texans, visitors, veterans and mourners, who are all too used to seeing heroes come home in coffins draped in American flags.

Exit after exit.  Bridge after bridge.  Dozens.  Then hundreds.  Then thousands.  American flags lining up as far as the horizon could hold.  Hundreds of cars, trucks and 18-wheelers honked and waved as they passed.  People pulled over to ask what was going on, then they joined the masses that were gathered to say goodbye.

The procession passed through Temple and Belton, a short trip from our studio headquarters. We were there with our fellow Central Texans, mourning the loss of local hero and celebrating his tremendous life.

In Belton, on 6th Avenue, crowds came early and huddled together to catch of a glimpse of the procession.

One of the first people to arrive was Sean McEndry.  McEndry received the Purple Heart in Iraq, and the soldier that was with him that day was still by his side, part of a club called the Central Texas Camaro Coalition.  McEndry said they were there to pay respect to one of their own.

Also part of the crowd was Chuck Hollingsworth, Belton resident and veteran who served in Vietnam from 1972-76.  Hollingsworth said was happy to see so many people brave the elements to honor a fallen veteran.

"We didn't get much of a welcome back then," Hollingsworth said of his return from Vietnam.  "[Kyle] is a fellow veteran. He went all that time [in combat] and came back to get shot by a fellow veteran.  We're just trying to show our respect."

After the procession passed through Temple and Belton, it made its way through Salado, then down I-35 into Austin, where he will be laid to rest in Texas State Cemetery.