Chad Littlefield had a servant’s heart fueled by a love of his country and his faith in God. He followed his heart where it lead him, and encouraged others to serve alongside him. He was especially passionate about helping veterans, as he was so appreciative of their service.
“Have you done anything for a veteran today?”
This was a standard greeting offered by Chad, one his family still laughs about even as they continue to grapple with the knowledge that it was Chad’s very selflessness that lead to his death.
It’s been five years since Chad and his good friend Chris Kyle were killed by the very man they’d committed to helping. In February of 2013, Chad and Chris drove out to a Texas ranch for some shooting practice with a veteran. This was something Chris Kyle – known to many as The American Sniper – had been doing often as a means to provide camaraderie and a familiar outlet to combat veterans struggling with the aftermath of their experiences. That day, he’d asked Chad to ride along.
In a terrible twist of fate, the veteran with them shot and killed both men.
Chad Littlefield and Chris Kyle met at the soccer field where both of their daughters played. The men became close friends, each holding the other in high regard. Eventually, they joined forces off the soccer field, working together to help veterans.
He had no idea Chris was famous until the day they were en route to visit a wounded veteran. Chris swung his truck into the Walmart parking lot, telling Chad he was going to pop in to pick up a copy of his book, which he’d sign and give to the veteran. That was when Chad realized his buddy was the American Sniper, and the men had a good laugh about it on the way to visit that veteran.
Chad’s mother, Judy Littlefield, and his brother, Jerry Richardson, smile when they tell that story, mimicking Chad as he told them. Emotion seeps into their voices as they remember how amusing it was to see those two together, and how it makes sense now, looking back to see their purpose.
Judy recalls telling her son, who was so committed to helping others – always stopping to offer aid if he saw an accident, and giving his time to help wherever he could – that he should be a First Responder.
Tears threaten his mother’s eyes when she says she just assumed that bush died with her son. But then, in what she is certain was a sign from her son, she got a yellow rosebud on Mother’s Day.
That rose bush still only offers a selective yellow rose. But when she gets one, Judy says, something special always accompanies it.
It’s this faith in their undying link to Chad that carries them through much of their grief. But sometimes, when they need it most, help arrives in other forms.
Judy and her husband Don lean on each other in life. When one falters, the other carries them. But one time, Judy remembers, she and her husband were both down, each unable to lift the other. Depression grew and swarmed her soul. She felt lost, and even suicidal as she sat in their home one night, genuinely unsure she had the will to endure her pain for another moment.
Then she heard a knock on the door.
Out of the blue, the local police chaplain had felt the compulsion to check in on the Littlefields. Maybe, he said, he could come pray with them for a moment. Judy clung to him, telling him he was their angel. The chaplain joked, “Well, I’m an angel – with a gun.”
Five years is a long time to live without someone you love. It’s also such a short time to travel the ever-winding path of traumatic grief. Chad Littlefield’s family is transparent about their grief and their love for Chad which will never end. They are determined to share his story, as they want people to know two American heroes died that day. Judy is writing a book about her son, and one day hopes his story will be told.
Jerry explains they’ve been told, and believe, people, die not once but twice. The first death occurs when the body dies, and the soul goes to heaven – or wherever else, he laughs. The second death occurs when that person is forgotten. And as long as they live, that second death will never claim Chad.
This simple statement seemed to be the foundation upon which Chad lived his life. Today, his family continues building on the foundation Chad established, ensuring the legacy of his service lives on.
Jerry is on the Board of Operation Valor , a non-profit organization offering financial support to other organizations dedicated to supporting the men and women in the military community.
Each dollar raised by Operation Valor goes directly to veterans, something Chad’s family is proud of. There is no paid staff. When asked, Chad’s parents attend events and lend their personal support, bolstering the impact of particular events or outreach.
Occasionally, Chad Littlefield’s family is faced with people who wonder why they do what they do. How can they continue helping veterans, they are asked, when it was a veteran who killed Chad? Why would they continue to support the very people who did this to their family?
“We decided early on that we were not going to get bitter,” Judy says. She likens the cultivation of anger or revenge to drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. “We were going to get better. That’s what Chad would want us to do,” she says.
His brother agrees, saying Chad’s spirit is what moves them on – even if that spirit wasn’t always perfect.
Chad’s family isn’t so overtaken by their grief that they forget Chad was also human. Jerry smirks when he recalls getting annoyed with his little brother, and they both laugh when they talk about Chad’s method of apologizing to his mother.
Whenever he made his mother mad, Chad would show up at his parent’s house with a single yellow rose. Finally, he just gave his mother an entire bush of yellow roses. Jerry jumped in and gave her a red rose bush.
Jerry’s roses bloomed like good little roses, but that yellow rose bush seemed linked to Chad; it only bloomed when something special was happening in Chad’s world.