We are living in highly polarized times that are remindful of the conflicts of the 1960s over the war in Vietnam and the role of nuclear weapons in America’s foreign policy. I have, however, had occasion to reflect recently on one area in which everyone should be able to have a common vision of what is right and a sense of both pride and sorrow. The inspiration for these thoughts was seeing the movie, Taking Chance, starring Kevin Bacon. This movie was “made for television” and since I don’t watch much TV, it got by me in 2009 without even being noticed, despite Bacon having won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television.
It’s a straight-ahead story, though unusual, I suspect, for a TV movie in that there is relatively little dialogue. Part of the magic is that the film relies on visual imagery rather than a lot of dialogue. The story line is that Gulf War-decorated Marine Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl volunteered to escort to the family in Wyoming the remains of 19-year old PFC Chance Phelps, who was killed, with severe wounds, in combat in Iraq. In the film, based on a true story, Strobl has been deeply conflicted by his decision to remain with his family and perform desk duties rather than return to combat in Iraq when others did. His volunteering as escort for Phelps is motivated by a need for some kind of redemption for that decision. He receives detailed instructions on exactly how the personal effects and the casket are to be treated at every step of the long journey home to a family divided by divorce and overwhelmed with grief.
The story spends some time on the intimate, painful work to prepare the body for burial in full dress uniform in every immaculate detail. The caring and respect of the people doing this work is palpable. I had never before considered this aspect of the return of dead soldiers to their homeland and was deeply moved by it. It is presented with great dignity.
On the journey, Lt. Col. Strobl renders honors at every movement of the casket, often in the presence of overwhelmed airline personnel who have witnessed this many times. Strobl stands at attention and salutes the casket as it slowly moves from the cargo hold of the plane carrying the body. These scenes and others throughout the film will, I predict, break your heart.
I will provide no other spoilers – just a warning to have tissues handy. The film will change you, with insights into an aspect of war that everyone should absorb, as they are sitting in the comfort and safety of their homes. I came away with a profoundly deeper sense of respect for the military men and women who defend our country and our way of life every day. See for yourself. Please.