HBO’s new movie, Taking Chance, tells the true story of U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl who volunteers to accompany the remains of 19-year-old Lance Corporal Chance Phelps killed in Iraq back to his family in Dubois, Wyoming. Witnessing the spontaneous outpouring of support and respect for the fallen Marine — from the groundskeepers he passed along the road to the cargo handlers at the airport –Strobl, played convincingly by Kevin Bacon, wrote about the experience in his personal journal. His account became an Internet phenomenon when it was widely circulated throughout the military community and eventually reached the mainstream media.
Taking Chance is a beautiful, eloquent and compelling movie. The subject matter becomes even more timely with the announcement today that the Obama Administration is reversing a ban on news coverage of the return of war dead, allowing photographs of flag-covered caskets with the permission of the families.
Among the movie’s many highlights, what was particularly resonant to me is how it not only illustrates the disconnect between those who are fighting abroad and most civilians here at home but also the desire for many of those same civilians to connect and somehow contribute.
Kevin Bacon as Lt. Col. Michael Strobl in “Taking Chance”
That theme is underscored in one particularly powerful scene: Strobl and Phelps’ coffin are being driven from Dover Air Base to the Philadelphia airport by a college age man who tells the Colonel that he doesn’t think he could join the Marines because he’s in a band and would have to get a haircut. The man also tells Strobl he doesn’t understand why we’re fighting in Iraq but says that after a high school classmate was killed and another was badly injured in Iraq, he volunteered to drive the coffins of dead servicemen and women and their military escorts from Dover. As he tells Strobl, “I just wanted to do something.” I think that is a sentiment of many Americans who just want to do something to give back. The challenge is tapping that interest among the public. It is an objective that President Obama has spoken about often and is a goal of this blog. (And, I think emergency preparedness offers opportunities for average citizens.)
“Taking Chance” can be seen on HBO at these dates and times.
I also wanted to recommend an equally striking documentary which is where I first learned about the story of Chance Phelps and Michael Strobl. PBS’ “Operation Homecoming”, produced by The Documentary Group in 2007, explores the firsthand accounts of American troops through their written words, and offers a profound window into the human side of the war being fought in Iraq. The film evolved out of a National Endowment for the Arts project that gathered the writing of soldiers and their families who have participated in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Chance Phipps segment with Col. Strobl is narrated by actor Robert Duvall. It can be purchased here. For more information on Chance Phelps, you can go to the Chance Phelps Foundation at ChancePhelps.com.