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January 29, 2015 07:45 PM

Taya Kyle opens up about the love she had with the real American Sniper Chris Kyle and the film that is his legacy. Subscribe now for instant access to this emotional, exclusive PEOPLE interview.

Chris Kyle was not a red carpet kind of guy.

The late Navy SEAL was far more comfortable working on a ranch or knocking back a beer with his friends than he was in the spotlight.

“He wasn’t used to being in the forefront,” his widow, Taya Kyle, 40, tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story.

American Sniper, the film based on his bestselling 2012 autobiography, has scored six Oscar nominations – including Best Picture and Best Actor for Bradley Cooper – and earned more than $200 million at the box office. What would Chris think of the film’s blockbuster success?

“He would just be in awe of it, really,” Taya says of her husband, who was fatally shot on a Texas gun range at age 38 in 2013. “Part of the beauty of it is that he was just so humble. It makes me really emotional when I think about how he would react.

“At the same time, I can also see him being almost uncomfortable in some ways with the attention,” she says. “He got used to it in some ways with the book but not entirely – not ever.”

Taya recalls that at book signings for his autobiography, when people admitted they were nervous meeting him, “He would tell them, ‘My knees are shaking now,’ almost apologetically.”

One thing he would be comfortable with: The response to the movie from veterans and their families.

“Chris would feel so honored and so blessed to find a way to serve again, without intending to,” says Taya, “just by being him.”

For more on Taya and Chris and the love story behind American Sniper, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

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