By Bill Sniffin, publisher
If you live in Wyoming and are a patriot – how can you not love the movie “Taking Chance?”
We watched this 2009 movie the other night on HBO and, boy, does it ever hit home. It is an emotional roller coaster. We loved it when it first came out but had not watched it since.
It is the story about a young Marine from Dubois named Chance Phelps, who was killed on Good Friday, April 9, 2004, in Iraq. The movie is about Lt. Col. Mike Strobl’s journey in bringing the young man’s body home to Wyoming.
Kevin Bacon is simply outstanding as he portrayed Strobl doing this solemn solitary job of escorting the remains of an American soldier on his long and final journey home. It makes you proud to see how serious this country takes such a job.
By movie standards, this is a small little movie, only 77 minutes long. It does not include any expansive scenes but the director does an excellent job of showing the emotions connected with the premature death of a young man, cut down in his prime.
On the IMDB movie database, the film is rated 7.5, which is very good. It originally was a TV movie and later because of its popularity, it has been elevated to frequent showings on the cable movie channels. And for good reason.
Chance Phelps has definitely not been forgotten.
The new Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois has a special room called the Chance Phelps Room, which has items telling his story. Museum founder Dan Starks was emphatic about making sure the young man was remembered.
Chance’s dad, John Phelps, is a famous sculptor. In Lander, the spectacular Veterans Memorial at Veterans Park next to the Fremont County courthouse is highlighted by a larger than life image of a soldier, with his head down bearing the brunt of war. That sculpture is by Phelps and he used the image of his son.
Wyoming is home to some of the best veterans memorials of any state. The most recent one was the magnificent Native American Memorial in Fort Washakie, which was just recently dedicated.
I wish I had written this column a week ago as a way of honoring all veterans on Veterans Day, Nov. 11. This film does a spectacular job of honoring all vets.
The TV movie stars Bacon and is based on a short story Marine Lt. Col. Strobl wrote after escorting Phelps’ body across the country in 2004 to his funeral in Dubois.
Coincidentally, the military had banned all coverage of the return of soldiers remains since the 1991 Gulf War until April, 2009. The military did offer assistance to the film makers on this project, however.
Wherever he went, Strobl wrote in the story, people greeted him with tremendous hospitality, respect and, often, teary eyes. Strobl kept a 20-page journal of his experience which later was widely circulated among members of the military. It was discovered by HBO and quickly green-lighted as a movie project.
While most of the feature was filmed in New Jersey, the script also called for scenes from the funeral and the funeral procession in Dubois.
Phelps’ family and Dubois residents were largely supportive of the project and thrilled when HBO location scouts visited the area. Town officials sought help from then-Gov. Dave Freudenthal and worked with Union Cellular to have a temporary cell tower erected, former mayor Mike Harrison said. Most of the western scenes ended up being filmed in the Bozeman, MT area, however.
Harrison said Dubois residents were in favor of a positive story about one of their own who made a commitment to his country and followed through.
Harrison said local filming would have helped the town of about 1,000 in Fremont County find closure and would have further expressed its connection with Phelps and his family.
Phelps was 19 when he was killed in an ambush west of Baghdad on Good Friday in 2004.
“Chance was a great young man and came from a wonderful family,” said Harrison, who choked up as he expressed his thoughts about the loss. “And that’s really the basis for why this whole story was even told.”
But what matters most, Mayor Harrison said, is that the nation learned the story of the Marine from Dubois, his family, and the proud town that helped raise him.
“The good news is that it’s being told,” Harrison said.
An excellent news story about the movie written by reporter Jared Miller contributed to this column.