Sunday, November 22, 2009

As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s time to give thanks (and this is a good place to start)

movie poster 'Taking Chance'


I'm just going to say a couple things upfront:

I'm proud to be an American (like the song goes) but I don't own a big American flag, look for products made in America, or listen to Tim McGraw.  And when it comes to war, I'm not in favor of American troops in places like Iraq or Afghanistan, but I'm not necessarily against it either.  (A sad admission of not taking the time to learn more.)  

What I DO know however, regardless of where our forces are stationed, they deserve our full & unconditional support; and last night, I got a very good reminder of that with the film "Taking Chance".   I've seen a lot of movies, and I honestly cannot remember watching one that put a lump in my throat (and tears in my eyes) for the entire duration of the film.  

The movie is based on the true story of a Marine, Lt. Col. Michael Strobl (who loves his wife & kids so much that he's opted to work stateside behind a desk for most of his military career).  One morning in 2004 while glancing at the latest casualty list of soldiers from Iraq, he notices one in particular; not the soldiers name (PFC Chance Phelps), but his hometown (where Strobl had also grown up).  So he volunteers to accompany the body back to Phelps family for burial.

Chance Phelps


Never seen in the film, the real hero here:  PFC Chance Phelps who died in battle in Iraq


While he receives instructions on being a military escort, we witness Chance Phelps body being prepared for delivery to the family's funeral home.  Specialists gingerly wash the deceased, and carefully clean his personal possessions.  (His wristwatch, dog-tags, a wooden cross necklace.)  A full dress uniform is custom sewn complete with all medals and polished brass (even though, because of his injuries, it will be a closed casket).   Colonel Strobl is told that during the trip, from car to train to various planes across the country, he will stand at attention and salute the young soldiers remains at every entrance and exit point.

Saluting the soldiers remains


Kevin Bacon said that filming these scenes brought tears to both his eyes and the film crew


Along his cross-country trip (from Philadelphia to Wyoming), Strobl is taken aback by the respect shown to him, both civilian & from other branches of the military.  At one airport as he salutes the plane unloading, he turns to see the entire airport crew standing behind him, hands on their hearts.  On another flight, the pilot asks the passengers to remain seated after landing as there is precious cargo to be unloaded; a soldier killed in the line of duty.  Strobl seems the only one surprised.  The other passengers watch quietly as Chance Phelps container is wheeled off and saluted on the tarmac.

Michael Strobl


The real Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, who's report of the events surrounding his escort service inspired so many,  and eventually this movie


This is only part of the story, of course.  Along the way we learn more of Kevin Bacon (as Strobl) and his modest yet fierce dedication to not just PFC Chance Phelps body but to the grieving soldier's family.   (There is only one emotional scene by Bacon, who somehow manages to maintain a low profile while remaining the central character in the movie.)  

There is no great adventure here, no drama.  It is the voyage of one young hero's remains from the battlefield to his final resting place on a lonely Wyoming plain.

The movie isn't pro-military or even pro-America; just a poignant reminder on the goodness of dignity, humility & showing real respect.  Chance Phelps father (in an interview after the film) talked proudly of the visits, calls & letters his family still receives from other Marines in Chance's battalion, and says "These men fight for their country, but they die for their friends."                          Music by Greg Laswell - "Comes and Goes (in Waves)"

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