ARLINGTON -- They needed a big venue.Larger than an auditorium.Bigger than a church sanctuary.The occasion called for a place that can seat thousands and still have room to contain a family's sorrow, a grief, played out in public view, that seemed almost too great to bear.A flag-draped casket rested atop the five-pointed star in the center of Cowboys Stadium.Solemn drumbeats and the mournful wail of bagpipes filled the largest domed structure in the world.In a place known for cheering, an estimated 7,000 gathered in respectful silence to remember and honor the life of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who was fatally shot Feb. 2, along with friend Chad Littlefield, at a gun range at a Glen Rose resort.Monday's memorial service began with a simple prayer: "Lord, help us to understand...."Head bowed, Taya Kyle sat before the casket with her two small children, who attend elementary school in Midlothian. Alternately holding their hands, stroking their hair, Kyle's widow watched her husband's life in photos flash on the stadium's giant video screen.For 90 minutes she listened as Kyle's high school friends and Navy teammates spoke with feeling about her husband's playfulness, his loyalty, his bravery in battle, his commitment to family.Chris Kyle served in every major battle during Operation Iraqi Freedom. An expert marksman, he was injured twice during four combat tours in the Middle East, where he provided "overwatch" protection for Marines and other U.S. troops.The plain-spoken Texan who kept a folded American flag pressed against his chest, beneath his body armor, is reputed to be the most proficient sniper in American military history. According to his bestselling memoir American Sniper, the man whom Iraqi insurgents nicknamed the "Devil of Ramadi" had a record 150-plus kills.Kyle was awarded two Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars with Valor and two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement medals.In 2009, the year Cowboys Stadium opened, Kyle left his band of brothers and came home -- home to Midlothian, home to his waiting wife, home to the welcoming arms of his kids.In civilian life Kyle dedicated himself to helping disturbed and disabled veterans by providing them with exercise equipment and counseling.The man accused of killing Kyle and Littlefield is one such veteran, former Marine Eddie Routh. According to news reports, Routh's mother had asked Kyle if he could help her son, who reportedly has post-traumatic stress disorder.On Monday, near the end of the service, Taya Kyle left her seat and was escorted to the speaker's platform.She drew a deep breath.Then she spoke publicly, for the first time since her husband's death.She didn't try to make sense of it.She talked about unspeakable loss and the gift of true love."I stand before you, a broken woman," she said, fighting tears. "Some people along the way have told Chris that through it all, he was lucky I stayed with him. I stand before you now to set the record straight. Remember this. I am the one who literally, in every sense of the word, is blessed that Chris stayed with me."In a tender voice, she told each of her children how much they meant to their father.At last, she spoke to one person, and him alone."Thank you, Chris, for loving me. All of me."Harriette Fowler of Midlothian sat in the audience, where many were dabbing wet eyes. A retired teacher, she hung on Taya Kyle's every word. She listened to the Navy Hymn and to the bass voice of Randy Travis as he sang Amazing Grace.She watched as military personnel stood ramrod straight and honored one of their own, slowly lifting their arms in unison and snapping off crisp salutes.Fowler had known Kyle since he was a boy. He and her son played on school athletic teams together. She was his freshman English teacher at Midlothian High School, where Kyle graduated in 1992.Like thousands of others, Fowler came to say goodbye, before the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group comprising mostly veterans, leads a procession from Midlothian to Austin today where Christopher Scott Kyle will be buried in the Texas State Cemetery."Chris was a role model and a hometown hero," Fowler said."We thought he belonged to us. He was ours. But now he belongs to the whole world."
Chris Kyle will be buried in Texas State Cemetery, which is not open to everyone. Kyle's burial was approved by three-person cemetery committee because of his contributions to military affairs and to writing, a cemetery spokesman said.
The hearse and escorts are scheduled to pull out at 8 a.m. from the parking lot of the Midlothian schools stadium, 1800 S. 14th St.
Route: U.S. 287 to Interstate 35E to Austin.
Military personnel, first responders and the Patriot Guard Riders will escort the procession. Other motorists should expect delays, a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman said.
People stopping to watch the procession are urged to park safely on the shoulders of frontage roads and overpasses and not park on the highway or interstate.
Weather will be a consideration. The forecast calls for a 70 percent chance of rain through noon in North Texas. Chances of rain are 40 percent before noon in Austin.
Graveside service: private