Memorial Day remembrances don’t come naturally in our culture. Entertainment and indulgence-oriented, we’re so fixated on thinking of the day as the start of summer, a three-day weekend event and an excuse to head to the campground (these days with tons of electronic entertainment devices – so much for roughing it) that we barely give the why of Memorial Day a thought.
That being the case, when you pack your portable DVD player into the crossover SUV as you head to Lake Chelan or Cannon Beach or wherever, make sure you include a copy of Taking Chance, a movie that’s become a Memorial Day tradition for me.
It’s a simple and true story about a fallen Marine, PFC Chance Phelps, a young man from Wyoming, whose body needs to be escorted from the military mortuary at Dover, DE to his home. A Marine officer, Lt. Col. Mike Strobl, who is frustrated by his desk-bound duty at the Pentagon, volunteers for the job in order to re-connect with the reality of the consequences of war.
Throughout the movie, ordinary Americans from a teenaged hearse driver to airline workers and passengers to motorists to old World War II and Korean War veterans at an American Legion post in Wyoming show Col. Strobl and Chance respect and deference befitting the occasion. It’s rare these days to see a Hollywood production get it so right, but with Taking Chance it’s pitch-perfect.
You can’t help but be moved watching a rough bunch of airline baggage handlers fall in to render honors as the casket carrying Chance is loaded onto the airplane.
The only “villain” in the piece is a TSA airport screener who is insensitive and rude toward Col. Strobl and disrespectful of his uniform and mission. Some things never change.
Too often casualties are mere statistics. Here, however, we watch the story of a human being and his last journey and the impact his service and sacrifice have on those who encounter him on that journey.
I first watched the movie with my oldest son, a senior non-commissioned officer in the army, on Memorial Day three years ago. He had just been transferred to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and he was living with me in Lacey, WA. Certainly, I couldn’t think of a better way to think on the holiday, nor a better person with whom to do it.
My soldier-son, SFC Mark St. Clair, will spend this Memorial Day in Afghanistan. In July, he’ll be home for a little R&R and to get married to a young woman he met there who is in the navy. This is his fourth deployment, but it won’t be his last.
In our zeal to exercise our freedom and relative prosperity by enjoying the holiday, spending 78 minutes, the length of Taking Chance, being reminded why there’s a Memorial Day isn’t too much to ask.