[Guest post by Jack Dunphy]
Despite being a regular HBO watcher, and despite owning three Tivo boxes, I missed the opportunity to see Taking Chance when if first aired back in February. I’m grateful to HBO for their decision to show it again over this Memorial Day weekend. I watched it last night.
Marine PFC Chance Phelps was killed in action outside Ar Ramadi, Iraq, on April 9, 2004. Like every combat casualty, he was escorted home by a member of his own branch of the military. Lt. Col. M.R. Strobl had the honor of being Phelps’s escort, and he described the journey in an essay on which the film was based. “Chance Phelps was wearing his Saint Christopher medal when he was killed on Good Friday,” Strobl begins the essay. “Eight days later, I handed the medallion to his mother. I didn’t know Chance before he died. Today, I miss him.”
It’s a moving film, deeply respectful of the military in general, the Marines in particular, and Chance Phelps above all. I can’t recommend it more highly.
While preparing to observe Memorial Day, I was clicking around on the L.A. Times’s database of the 536 Californians killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can sort them by their branch of service, place of burial, hometown, and what have you, and in looking over the list I happened upon the name of James Blecksmith, a Marine lieutenant killed in Fallujah, Iraq, on December 11, 2004. He is the lone casualty from San Marino, Calif., a wealthy suburb of Los Angeles, and a town which, one presumes, does not send many of its sons off to the Marine Corps or any other branch of the military.
I speak of him here not because I knew him or his family. I did not. I merely chanced upon his name and then read the obituary that was published in the L.A. Times. He was a young man brimming with promise, a young man who might have accomplished anything he set his mind to. And in that, he is so emblematic of the 4,987 Americans who have thus far laid down their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am grateful to live in a country that produces such extraordinary men.
A final thought: Today I attended the ceremonies at the Los Angeles National Cemetery, a feature of which was the reading of letters sent home by Americans in combat across the years, from the Civil War to today. Actor Robert Davi read one such letter, very movingly so, but before reading it he made an observation about the industry in which he earns his living. “Nickelodeon,” he said, “had a celebrity-packed Earth Day celebration on television last month. Why doesn’t Nickelodeon have a celebrity-packed Memorial Day celebration?”