Sunday, June 7, 2009
Yesterday, on the anniversary of D-Day, I watched Taking Chance, about a Marine colonel, Michael Strobl, who escorts the body of Private First Class Chance Phelps, a young war hero killed in Iraq, home to his family in Wyoming. This is a very moving story based on the report that the colonel wrote about the trip.
It is especially a tribute to Chance Phelps, who was killed trying to protect his company from enemy fire and who in his brief military career had already been highly decorated with six ribbons.
This movie is also a tribute to the U.S. military and the respect and honor with which people in the military treat each other and treat their fallen. This respect is shown in the way that the military morticians at the Dover Air Force Base take meticulous care of Pvt. Phelps' body and effects and those of other fallen soldiers. This respect is shown in the way in which Col. Strobl performs his slow military salute before the body of Pvt. Phelps and others join him and in the extreme care that the colonel took to ensure a dignified and safe journey. This respect is shown in the deep sense of humility and respect that Col. Strobl showed to the private's family in the face of their loss.
Taking Chance is also a tribute to the American people, because it was the care, honor, and respect that they showed to the body of the dead soldier and to his escort that inspired Col. Strobl to write the story. Thus, this is a story of the character of both of these men in their selfless devotion to the U.S. military and of the American people. I would that all Americans, but especially young people, see this film.
Throughout the three days of the Memorial Day weekend, Turner Classic Movies featured many fine films from World War II, a few from World War I, none from the Korean War, and only one from the Vietnam War. It saddened me to think that Americans, from this lineup, regard World War II as the war in which we can acknowledge our heroes. Watching these films, I realized that although one man may stand out more than others in devotion and leadership, war is filled with heroes--the many unnamed heroes that even help to create the known heroes, or the simple heroism of risking your life for the defense of one's country. In denying the continuation of that military aspiration in our films and in the media, we are denying inspiration to our own youth, not simply inspiration for a military career, but inspiration to service, devotion, self-sacrifice, and belief in our country. The film Taking Chance, exquisitely acted by Kevin Bacon, shows how young men and women are inspired to join the military as the highest achievement of their life--a young friend of mine, who has just joined the Marines, is a case in point--and that most Americans, stretching across the country as in Chance's final journey, recognize this and honor them.