In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day (later changed to Veterans Day) with the following words:
“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”.
In the spirit of this remembrance, I would like to suggest watching a movie called “Taking Chance.”
I stumbled across this HBO movie once it became available for rental, and I cried silently through all of it. I was touched immeasurably by its contents, and also enlightened and proud.
“Taking Chance” is based on the true story of Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl, USMC, who in April 2004, came across the name of Lance Corporal Chance Phelps, a 19-year-old Marine who had been killed by hostile fire in Iraq on Good Friday.
When he learned Chance was from his own hometown in Wyoming, Lt. Col. Strobl requested he be assigned military escort duty for his remains. Viewers can only feel privileged — and hard-pressed not to weep — as they witness the outpouring of support and respect for the fallen Marine the entire journey.
A Desert Storm veteran with 17 years of military service, Lt. Col. Strobl was so moved by his experience of escorting Chance, he was compelled to write about it and by doing so, shared with the world a glimpse of our military’s policy of providing a uniformed escort for all casualties, and the extreme care and respect they receive until they are delivered home.
I had no idea what happened to our fallen soldiers until I watched this movie but I was in awe as I watched the re-enactment of Chance’s final trip home. Upon returning from Iraq, Chance’s body is delivered to a team of military personnel who gently clean his ravaged body and dress him in a clean and pressed military uniform, restoring him with dignity and care. Placed gingerly in a casket adorned with our nation’s flag, Chance travels by car and by plane en route to his family with Lt. Col. Strobl at his side.
At any time Chance is being transitioned, Lt. Col. Strobl stands at attention, doing a slow ceremonial salute. Countless others — from baggage handlers to civilians — stand with hats or hands over their hearts, paying respect.
Everyone in the airline industry seems to know Lt. Col. Strobl is an escort and utters their sincere thanks, asking him to pass their condolences onto the family. Some have tears in their eyes for the young man they’ve never met. Everyone is privileged to be a part of getting Chance home.
Eight days after his death, Chance comes home to his family. We witness Lt. Col. Strobl giving the family Chance’s personal effects, including the St. Christopher medal that was around his neck as he died in service to his country. He tells them how, at every step, Chance was treated with respect, dignity and honor and tries to convey how the entire nation expressed their grief and sympathy over their loss. We witness a high school gymnasium filled with Chance’s family and friends for his funeral service. And finally, we witness Chance being laid to rest in military fashion.
A military burial is something I have witnessed in person, when my father-in-law, Col. Francis Carter Cobb, was buried in 2003. I will never forget it. The honor guard served as his pallbearers, moving him with precision and expertise. After the priest finished his service, they folded the American flag draped across his casket while the rifle team gave the 21-gun salute. As Taps played, a colonel spoke quietly to my mother-in-law, personally handing her the flag on behalf of the President of the United States. It was bittersweet, but profoundly moving.
Between our two families, my husband and I can count many military veterans in our ranks, one who lost his life in service. We honor them, and all veterans, this November 11. My youngest son will honor veterans by playing with the Charles Town Middle School band at the Jefferson Memorial Park service. Memorial services, parades and personal tributes are all wonderful displays to honor our veterans, and I believe watching the movie “Taking Chance” is another.