View Full Version : Base hosts premiere to honor fallen Marine, escort

02-13-09, 08:25 AM
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Base hosts premiere to honor fallen Marine, escort

By Sgt. Danielle M. Bacon
Press Chief

A proud sense of silent attention, hushed breath and quiet tears filled Little Hall Theater Tuesday night as Marines, friends, family, coworkers and guests watched one Marine’s final journey home during the HBO movie premiere of ‘‘Taking Chance.”

The debut honored the life of Lance Cpl. Chance Phelps, who was killed by hostile fire in Iraq on April 9, 2004, and recounted now retired Lt. Col. Michael Strobl’s true-life experience escorting the 19-year-old’s remains across America from Dover Air Force Base, Del., to his hometown in Dubois, Wyoming.

The movie is scheduled to air on HBO on Feb. 21 at 11:45 p.m., Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m., and Feb. 24 at 11:30 a.m. and 8 p.m.

‘‘It was a wonderful film,” said tearful Lisa Hough, wife of a Marine who recently returned from Iraq. ‘‘From the very beginning to the very end, it was very touching.”

Prior to the showing, Chance’s parents, Strobl, Kevin Bacon, Director Ross Katz and HBO executives met at the National Museum of the Marine Corps for a reception.

‘‘I am very proud of the movie. I think it is something all American’s should see. My experience compelled me to write this story. I saw the decency and goodness of ordinary Americans all the way on my trip with Chance,” said Strobl, who wrote the screenplay. ‘‘I would especially like for Marines to see the movie and understand how much America cares for her Marine Corps.”

Strobl, played by Kevin Bacon, volunteered to serve as a military escort and ensured Chance’s remains were safely transported with proper respect all the way to his final resting place.

After his experience as an escort officer for Lance Cpl. Phelps’ remains, Strobl wrote a journal and shared it with six or seven coworkers.

‘‘When I first wrote this story I didn’t intend to have it distributed. When it did become widely distributed and I kind of panicked. I didn’t know if I had invaded the family’s privacy. So, I wrote them and explained what happened,” said Strobl. ‘‘They were very supportive and began what I am sure is going to be a life-long friendship.”

Chance’s father John Phelps said that the movie demonstrates all that is good in America and does the Marine Corps well.

‘‘It shows the patriotism the country has behind the scenes that maybe everybody watching doesn’t get to see,” said Phelps.

‘‘This is a good way to honor not only our son, but every single man and woman serving in the armed services. It also honors families who have lost a family member, a father, son or daughter,” said Gretchen Mack, Chance’s mother.

In the movie Lance Cpl. Chance is described as fierce in battle and gentle in friendship. His fellow Marines agree.

‘‘We were the best of friends,” said Cpl. Jorge Segura who served with Lance Cpl. Chance in 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines, 1st Marine Division. ‘‘The day he was killed, we were wrestling. Before we went on the convoy and he had me pinned down. He punched me a little bit and got up and told me I was like his little brother.

‘‘That was the last thing he told me,” Segura said.

Another Marine from Lance Cpl. Chance’s unit said that he was a fun loving Marine, who knew how and when to get to business.

‘‘He had a good sense of humor and wasn’t scared of anything. Even though he liked to goof off, he was still a Marine. You couldn’t ask for a better gunner. He was just an awesome kid,” said Shane Smith, a former lance corporal who was in Chance’s vehicle during the attack.

Director Katz said that what he found out about the military was amazing.

‘‘I found there was a level of dignity and honor and respect that I could have never even imagined,” said Katz. ‘‘Two years ago, I am ashamed to say that I didn’t know a single Marine. That was very much why I wanted to do this. I thought how could I live in this country and not know what these extraordinary individuals do for me. It was an honor.”

Playing the role of Marine is not new to Bacon, but he said this time it was difficult.

‘‘I think Mike (Strobl) was struggling with a lot of stuff internally – so you have to make sure that when you come to work everyday that you stay true to that and that you make that come out. You have to keep that in your gut so it comes out in your eyes,” said the actor who starred as a Marine officer in the 1992 film, ‘‘A Few Good Men.”

There is something that is a little different about Marines. I don’t know if I could actually put my finger on it. Obviously there is all the external stuff, but then there is also something internally that you have to tap into. There was a responsibility and it was an honor to bring Chance’s story to the public and to do it with decency, honesty and integrity.”

Bacon explained that it is important to recognize not only Lance Cpl. Chance but all the men and women who have sacrificed there lives, not just in this current war but in all wars.


Photo courtesy of DefendAmerica.com
The body of Lance Cpl. Chance Phelps is drawn by carriage to his funeral in 2004. A movie honoring his final journey home is set to aire on HBO.

02-13-09, 09:25 AM
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 13, 2009 :: Last modified: Thursday, February 12, 2009 9:37 PM MST

Chance brings family, marine together

By Margaret Matray
Star-Tribune staff writer

Lt. Col. Michael Strobl tied and untied a small bag he carried with him, one that held the fallen marine's things: a watch still set to Baghdad time, a wooden cross with a lanyard, dog tags and a Saint Christopher medal on a silver chain.

For 2,000 miles, from Dover Air Force Base, Del., to Dubois, he untangled the items over and over.

He wanted everything to look perfect when he presented them to the family of a man he'd never met.

Mike Strobl first met the family of Lance Cpl. Chance Phelps in the hallway outside the Dubois High School gym. People were already filing inside for the 19-year-old's funeral.

He told them of his journey and gave them the neatly untangled items. Once the service had ended, Mike's mission officially was over.

But he never forgot Chance Phelps. He couldn't. And Chance's family didn't forget Mike.

Almost five years later, a journal Mike wrote about his mission, "Taking Chance," has been turned into an HBO movie, set to screen in Dubois Wednesday and premiere on TV next weekend.

But even without the movie, Mike and the Phelps family have been drawn together by Chance. Today, they're close friends.

"I had no idea that I would speak with Mike again, or any of the other marines," said Gretchen Mack, Chance's mother. "... For the last five years, anyone who is connected with Chance has helped hold our families together. They just don't forget about Chance and they don't forget about us. You don't think these things are going to happen, but when they do it's such a wonderful feeling. It keeps Chance's memory alive."

On his way home from escorting Chance, Mike began writing his official trip report, which turned into a detailed personal journal of what he saw and felt on his mission. He showed it to his wife and a few coworkers, and "Taking Chance" became viral. It hit the Internet and eventually the mainstream media, all in about a week after he left Dubois.

Mike panicked. He never wanted to invade this family's privacy. He didn't want his journal to be a continual reminder of a painful day. What would they think when they saw this?

He tracked down Chance's father and mother and sent them a copy of the story.

But instead of the anger and pain Strobl feared, something else happened.

Neither Mike nor Gretchen is sure how it really started, but they began talking on the phone and e-mailing. At first, they talked about Chance.

"We kind of started talking about other things then. I got to know what wonderful people they are -- they're the kind that you fall in love with, and you never want to lose contact," Mike said.

Six months after they met at Chance's funeral, Gretchen and other family members visited Mike and his family in Virginia. Mike showed them around Washington, D.C., and Chance's brother-in-law ran a Marine Corps marathon.

Mike would come to Dubois again, and he and Gretchen would come to talk daily.

When HBO contacted Mike about turning "Taking Chance" into a film, he thought of Chance's family first. Before they agreed to anything, Mike and Gretchen talked it through. And when they met with HBO in 2006, they went together.

"We didn't want it to be a political expression of anything, we wanted it to be what (Mike) had written because we thought that it was such a beautiful story," Gretchen said. "... It's not political, it's just about the sacrifice, honor and commitment of the Marine Corps and the military."

When an agreement was met, Mike began writing the script with director and screenwriter Ross Katz. As Mike learned to tell a story for the screen and went through dozens and dozens of scripts, Gretchen went on her own journey.

Along with her daughter, Gretchen started the Chance Phelps Foundation to raise money for injured marines. In 2007 they walked 1,500 miles from a marine base in Twentynine Palms, Calif., to Dubois to raise awareness. It took them three and a half months.

"I don't know what I was thinking," Gretchen said. "I wanted to do something that would bring some sort of attention to the fact that we still need to take care of and honor these people that choose to defend our freedom. I wanted to reach a lot of people."

After Gretchen had time to rest her tired feet and the film "Taking Chance" was complete, Mike came to Wyoming. Inside a friend's basement, Mike and the Phelps family watched the movie together.

Everyone made it through the movie and the tears.

For Gretchen and Mike, growing close was something they never predicted would happen -- but it did.

When the film screens in Dubois Wednesday, Mike, Gretchen and the rest of the Phelps family will be there together. They'll file into a packed Dubois High School gym, exactly where they met five years ago when Mike brought Chance home.

* Reach reporter Margaret Matray at 266-0535 or margaret.matray@trib.com.

If you go ...

What: Public screening of the film "Taking Chance."

When: 6 p.m. Wednesday. Doors open at 5.

Where: Dubois High School gym, 314 Helmer St.

Cost: Free.

Note: Seating is limited. First come, first serve.

See it at home: If you can't make the free screening -- or if you don't get in -- the film debuts on HBO 7 p.m. Feb. 21.


Marines hold an American flag above the casket of Lance Cpl. Chance Phelps during his funeral in Dubois in 2004. The story of Lt. Col. Mike Strobl, who escorted Phelps home, is subject of the upcoming HBO film "Taking Chance." (Star-Tribune file photo)


Lt. Col. Michael Strobl talks with Kevin Bacon, who plays him in HBO's upcoming film "Taking Chance." Strobl co-wrote the screenplay, which is based on a journal he wrote after he escorted the remains of Lance Cpl. Chance Phelps home to Dubois in 2004. (HBO Photo/James Bridges)