Taking Chance Home with Dignity – Lt. Col. Strobl’s Personal Experience of the Cost of War

21 02 2009

The stirring HBO movie “Taking Chance” brought tears to my eyes. It shows the reverence, dignity, honor, and respect with which soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are brought home.

Starring Kevin Bacon and premiering today on HBO, it was shown at

Michael Strobl - Credit: PBS.org

Michael Strobl - Credit: PBS.org

Sundance Film Festival and competed for the Grand Jury Prize. Kevin plays Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl, who volunteers – out of some seeming guilt at not being in Iraq himself – to escort the body of 19-year-old Private First Class Chance Phelps home.

PFC Chance Phelps

PFC Chance Phelps

Chance was killed in Iraq on April 9, 2004. Strobl and those who assisted at each point along the way with transporting the body of PFC Phelps were deeply impacted and respectful and the cost of war was felt by all.

Lt. Col. Strobl is a Desert Storm veteran and served in the Marine Corps from 1983-2007. He daily read the list of Marines killed in Iraq and came across the name of PFC Phelps, who was from his home town in Colorado. That made his decision to serve as an escort for Phelps’ body personal and something he felt he had to do.

He kept a journal on his experience of escorting PFC Phelps home and from this came an article for the Marine Corps Gazette, which was published in July, 2004. I cannot access that article, but found a shorter version of it, which was published online at OrthodoxyToday.org in May, 2004. The article was widely circulated on the Internet and touched many people. It was given to Executive Producer Brad Krevoy when he attended the funeral of a friend’s son, who was killed in Iraq. He contacted Chance’s family and they agreed to allow the story to made into a film. Stobl went on to co-write the screenplay for the movie.

From the HBO site for this film:

‘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.

The life and death of Chance Phelps have touched a lot of people. The Chance Phelps Organization sponsors Run4Chance races and gives the proceeds to the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, which helps them to “…continue [their] vital mission of service to our wounded and critically ill Marines, Sailors and their families.”

Here is a short HBO clip on taking the story from script to screen. Kevin Bacon, Lt. Col Strobl, and others are interviewed about the story and the movie. HBO will be showing this many times . I hope that you will check out the schedule and make a point to watch it. It is incredibly moving.

Coffins of Soldiers Killed in Iraq

Coffins of Soldiers Killed in Iraq being Taken off Plane at Dover Air Force Base - Credit: AFP, Getty Images

UPDATE: On 2/26/09 Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that photos can now be taken of flag-draped coffins of soldiers if the family of the deceased soldier agrees.

UPDATE 4/5/09: For the first time in 18 years, the media today witnessed the return of a soldier killed overseas. You can read about it here.

UPDATE 7/16/09: Today it was announced that this movie is nominated for an Emmy Award for best made for television movie and Kevin Bacon is also nominated for an Emmy Award as best actor in a made for television movie.

UPDATE 1/17/10: Today Kevin Bacon won a Golden Globe for his role in this movie. The movie was also nominated for a Golden Globe award.

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10 responses

10 03 2009
K. David Dillingham

What an incredible movie and performance by Kevin Bacon. As an ex-marine and counseling psychologist for the VA with Vietnam vets in Wyoming, I found the depiction of Col. Strobl’s character to be the most credible I’ve seen in a motion picture, Kevin Bacon reached deep to provide such a compelling performance. I just want to add my comments on this moving story, thank you Kevin – K. David Dillingham

18 03 2009
Bill Darr

Dear Sirs:
I can’t stop watching this touching story and when I try to talk about it to others to
be sure they see it I find it extremely difficult to say more than “you must see this
story”. I am filling up now as I write this message. I am a former Army inductee
from many years ago during Viet Nam and although I never was in battle I am truly
grateful for my limited service and very appreciative of those and their families who
did give the final measure for mine and other’s freedom.
Thank you, Bill

19 07 2009
superdrupermegapuper54321

Very useful info. Thanks!…

18 08 2009
Eric Braun

As a former Army veteran during peace time and as a security contractor veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, this movie hit me harder than any I have seen in quite awhile.
To the family of LCpl Chance Phelps, thank you for raising such a great son who knew his purpose despite many other options. To all those families who have lost loved ones across our great nation, do not wonder if they are remembered, they are, everyday, by many who never knew them. You are always in our thoughts and prayers.
To those who made this story come to life and made it possible to share with all of us, God Bless you!
To those who take care of our servicemen and women, I cannot say enough as to how proud you make me feel taking care of those who can no longer take care of themselves. May God grant you the peace that surpasses all understanding you deserve.
So proud to be a part of this great nation.

4 09 2009
darla

Wow. I just watched this movie as a rental and I am so moved. As a Marine Mom I prayed I would never have to find out what this process was but to those who did find out, what a comforting tribute to know the level of respect given. I think possibly the best movie I have ever seen.

Thank you to those who made it, starred in it, and served our country.

31 12 2009
Saladdin

Wow is right. Incredibly moving without a hint of politics (rare for today). Unusually, this film was not (as some have said) anti-war or pro-war. This simple, emotional story was about the sacrifice of those who have served our country.

Kevin Bacon was outstanding, capturing the tortured, “I’m not doing enough” type of mentality that must be going through the minds of those like Lt. Col. Strobl. Beautifully done and a refreshing, invigorating story about Americans

9 02 2010
Samuel

To L/Cpl Chance Phelps and to all our servicemen and women, thank you so much for your courageous and heroic services. May God bless you all.

15 01 2012
Kim Kennedy

We just buried my Father yesterday; 3rd Marine Division. He lost 100% of sight on 12/25/43 in Bougainville. Thank you for portraying the complete and unparalleled dedication the Marines show for their own. They did so for my Dad (Thomas J. Kennedy Jr) yesterday . They again confirmed; once a Marine always a Marine.

Kim M Kennedy (Son)

3 06 2012
Jaime Roman

This movie is heart rending. What moved me was the response of thousands of Americans who showed their respect for one of their own with the small but touching gestures. I am a retired colonel. That moment for me came when a complete stranger asked to shake my hand while I was putting fuel in my car and thanked me. I was not expecting it. And having entered service in 1970, was used to being invisible. I too share Lieutenant Colonel’s reaction.

3 06 2012
It Dawned On Me

Thank you for your service, Colonel. When I see service men or women, I also thank them for what they have done for our country. We all owe you and others like you a debt of gratitude.

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