Wounded Marine: Why 'American Sniper' 's Chris Kyle Was a Real Hero

Kyle's openness about his own struggles helps other veterans, says former Marine Jacob Schick, who appears in the film

Photo: Chris Haston/NBC/Getty

Chris Kyle didn’t waver on the battlefield. As he saw it, he had one job to do – protect his fellow troops – and he did so with unflinching focus.

But back home following his four tours of Iraq, the Navy SEAL – whose 2012 autobiography, American Sniper, is the basis for director Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated film of the same name starring Bradley Cooper – struggled with the after-effects of war. And he shared his struggles with others going through the same thing.

Before his death in 2013, Kyle – who was fatally shot on a Texas gun range at age 38 while trying to help a veteran allegedly suffering from PTSD – believed passionately in raising awareness for veterans’ causes. Now, with the massive box-office success of American Sniper, his mission is reaching more people than ever.

“For any warrior who is struggling mentally, or even the families who go see this film, if they see, ‘Wow, if a guy like Chris Kyle could struggle and get help, then I need to do it also; he was so full of pride but he felt like he couldn’t fight these demons on his own’ – then I think this movie might push a warrior or at the family of a warrior away from the edge,” says Jacob Schick, a retired Marine who appears in Sniper as a wounded vet.

Schick lost most of his right leg below the knee as well as part of his left hand and arm in a 2004 IED attack and was close with the Kyle family before being cast in the film. He hopes audiences will take away a deeper understanding of the struggles facing veterans after they return home.

“I want them to see how challenging it is when these warriors come home and have to transition into the civilian sector and try and not be what they were overseas,” he says. “It is extremely challenging.”

For Kyle, carrying the mantle of “The Legend” proved a further challenge.

“He wore that like a heavy coat a little bit, and there was this reluctance to wear that crown,” says Sniper screenwriter Jason Hall.

With the release of the film, Hall says he has received positive feedback from those in the PTSD community.

“We got this story from a therapist who saw six of his patients who are shut-ins – guys who won’t go outside because they have PTSD – at the theater seeing the movie,” he says. “To know that these guys are making it outside for this and to know that it’s opening up their world is just beyond profound.”

Another woman sent Hall a message explaining that ever since her husband returned home from Vietnam, “he’s never talked about it and its been really challenging, and on the way home from your movie, he started talking about it.”

Says Hall: “The most beautiful part of all of this is that a lot of people are seeing what they want to see with this movie, but these soldiers and the people who have been affected by war in this way are seeing what we intended for them to see.

“That therapist who saw six of his patients in the movie said, ‘Chris was serving these guys in life and now he’s serving them in death.’ ”

Reporting by K.C. BAKER

For more on Chris Kyle and how his family is healing, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

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