“Taking Chance” A Fallen Marine’s Final Journey Home

takingchance51Kevin Bacon portrays Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl in the HBO Film “Taking   Chance.”                                                                                                                                          Airs on HBO, Saturday, February 21

         Taking Chance: A Fallen Marine’s Final Journey Home                 “Chance Phelps was wearing his Saint Christopher medal when he was killed on Good Friday. Eight days later, I handed the medallion to his mother. I didn’t know Chance before he died. Today, I miss him.” — Lt.Col Michael R. Strobl, USMC (Ret.) “Taking Chance”

           During his first prime-time press conference on February 9th, President Obama said that he would review a Pentagon policy that bans the media from taking pictures of flag-draped coffins of military dead returning home.

            Taking Chance, a new film by HBO airing February 21st, gives us a rare glimpse into the process of bringing our fallen service men and women home through the story of Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, USMC (ret).  When he noticed the name of a marine who was from the same area of Colorado as he was on the Department of Defense casualty list, Strobl volunteered to escort Private First Class Chance Phelps home.  The film, based on Strobl’s diary, allows us to journey with him from the moment the plane carrying Chance’s body touched ground on U.S. soil to his final resting place in the hills surrounding Dubois, Wyoming. 

The simple journey became extraordinary because of the people Strobl encountered on the way and the honor and respect they showed to Chance. As a Korean war veteran told Strobl, “You are his witness now; without a witness, they [the fallen soldiers] would just disappear.”   

         takingchance4Kevin Bacon portrays Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl in the HBO Film “Taking Chance.”

           Kevin Bacon (Frost/Nixon), as Colonel Strobl, gives a poignant performance withjust the right balance of military bearing and gravity of emotion that goes along with bringing the body of a loved one back to his family.  The re-enactment of the funeral is intensely moving as family and friends speak about Chance. His own platoon commander wrote in a letter to his parents, “If the world had more men like Chance Phelps there would be no need for a Marine Corps.”

            Taking Chance captures the emotion of a nation in mourning for those we have lost in the Iraq war.  However, the respect and honor in the film is universal.  In an interview with Kevin Bacon, Lt. Col. Strobl comments, “This is not about the Iraq war. I really think Taking Chance transcends that and it could be about any time or place.”

Sister Hosea Rupprecht, FSP, is a Daughter of St. Paul and an associate at the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Culver City.

From Sr Rose:

I am pleased to post Sr. Hosea’s review on my blog and to add a few words of my own about this film “Taking Chance.” To me, it is the most “American” film I have ever seen. Not in terms of government, or military or violence or ideology, but because it shows ordinary Americans of every background and class, race, and religion who care about their fellow human beings: the fallen and the one who is taking him home.

This film has a major BK rating (bring Kleenex).

But the thing that impressed me most was the glimpse into the antiseptic behind-the-scenes at what happens to our fallen soldiers in Iraq (and Afghanistan) when they come home. Although the people who care for the remains along the way are genuinely kind and gentle, the fact that the remains of our beloved brothers and sisters are bar-coded – bar-coded! – and processed with such cold precision, is a reality we have not been allowed to see during this war. Though it was deeply shocking to me, we deserve to see the reality of the war the government decides to wage in our name.  And nothing, not all the kindnesses in the world, changes the fact that these dear ones are dead.

For its many virtues, “Taking Chance” will perhaps make us consider ways such as negotiation to resolve our differences and conflicts before the long line of body bags are iced, bar-coded and sneaked home under the cover of darkness.

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