23 September 2009

Taking Chance

I won't lie. I love military theme movies. Anyone who watches military movies will know that in every military film, someone dies. Generally, the plot goes as follows:
  • Introduce character by showing him with loving family (usually newly married wife)
  • Show him bonding with his band of brothers
  • They go into battle
  • He miraculously dies saving his buddy
  • Flash forward to buddy going to wife's home and she collapses in his arms and they both cry.

However, the one thing you never see, hear, or even discuss is what happens from the death at the battlefield to the time the body arrives home. And I am certain that most people never even think of all the honor and glory that goes into that process.

My friend Joanne recommended that I watch the HBO movie called Taking Chance (starring Kevin Bacon). It is based on a true journals by Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl, USMC. (<- click to read...well worth the read).

Point of Clarification: She did not gently recommend the movie. She rented the movie and then physically brought it over to my house and insisted that I watch it that night with implied threats of what would happen if I didn't watch the movie. (Her husband is a two-term US army veteran so I take all threats seriously..lol).

I can't even begin to express how much I love this movie. I STRONGLY recommend that everyone watch this movie. In fact, I think it should be required as part of the high school curriculum.

Although it was robbed of an Emmy award (because academy voters tend to go for dramatic star-filled heart string movies over movies with subtlety and nuance), it deserves a place of honor in your film catalogue.

I felt like I was watching a watercolor being painted. I felt like I was witnessing the most honorable of human actions with the quietest of dignity. Does anyone ever think of what happens to the body from field to funeral? Do you think about how you feel about a soldier who dies.

So I will leave with a preview and a synopsis. And then you MUST run out and get the movie.

In April 2004, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl, USMC, came across the name of 19-year-old Lance Corporal Chance Phelps, a young Marine who had been killed by hostile fire in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. Strobl, a Desert Storm veteran with 17 years of military service, requested that he be assigned for military escort duty to accompany Chance's remains to his family in Dubois, Wyo.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 was moved to capture the experience in his personal journal. His first-person account, which began as an official trip report, gives an insight into the military's policy of providing a uniformed escort for all casualties. The story became an Internet phenomenon when it was widely circulated throughout the military community and eventually reached the mainstream media. 'Taking Chance' chronicles one of the silent, virtually unseen journeys that takes place every day across the country, bearing witness to the fallen and all those who, literally and figuratively, carry them home. A uniquely non-political film about the war in Iraq, the film pays tribute to all of the men and women who have given their lives in military service as well as their families. An HBO Films presentation of a Motion Picture Corporation of America and Civil Dawn Pictures production, Taking Chance marks the directorial debut of two-time Oscar®-nominated producer Ross Katz ('Lost in Translation'). The screenplay is by Lt. Col Michael R. Strobl, USMC (Ret.) and Ross Katz, based on the journal of the same name by Strobl, who also serves as military consultant. Strobl, who recently retired after serving 24 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, developed the original story with the strong support of Phelps' parents, John Phelps and Gretchen Mack. The executive producers are Brad Krevoy ('A Love Song for Bobby Long'), Cathy Wischner-Sola and Ross Katz; the co-executive producer is William Teitler (HBO's 'Empire Falls'); and the producer is Lori Keith Douglas ('The Notorious Bettie Page'). HBO Films vice president Jenni Sherwood is the executive in charge of the production.


Joanna said...

Excellent post, Dan! You're right, not enough people are aware of this story... and high school curriculums are overdue for an upgrade anyway.....

Seems like the perfect fit.

As I mentioned in my post about this story, there are just so many details about escort duty that go untold, so I'm grateful that the Lt.Col. has shared his journey with us.

It can be hard to watch, but it needs to be told.

PS - Thank you for taking my threats seriously, lol. Now go read "Fifteen Days"! :)

Rebecca on The Homefront said...

If you want to read the other side of that experience, "Final Salute" shares the experiences of the families and the casualty assistance officers who must break the worst news of their lives to them.

Off to find "Taking Chance" and "Fifteen Days," thanks! :)