To soldiers we send to the other side
In pain and grief and bodies still—
Esteem is the least we can provide.
When enemies suddenly surfaced to kill,
Due honor was given to young Private Chance
In pain and grief and bodies still.
His body and others would no more advance.
Homeward he went with Marine Michael Strobl;
Due honor was given to young Private Chance.
Everywhere everyone noticed the noble,
Mournful delivery, precious cargo.
Homeward he went with Marine Michael Strobl.
No greater debt does society owe
To those who return in a flag-buried box,
Mournful delivery, precious cargo.
We mustn’t ignore those who bear our worst shocks.
To soldiers we send to the other side,
To those who return in a flag-buried box,
Esteem is the least we can provide.

(For the sixteenth day of NaPoWriMo, the optional prompt is for a terzanelle, a hybrid poetry form involving repeated lines.)

While war films aren’t my favorite genre, I have always had the greatest respect for the military and all who risk and devote their lives to keeping their nation safe. While countless other films have depicted the heroism of soldiers in every war, no film captures the honor and deference they deserve like Taking Chance. A big thank-you to MovieRob for introducing me to this short but meaningful HBO film, which stands as the most moving testament to fallen heroes I’ve seen.

Kevin Bacon won an Emmy for his portrayal of Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl, the real-life Marine who escorted the body of PFC Chance Phelps from Delaware to Wyoming, during the Iraq War. He’s a desk-bound family man who loves his wife and kids but feels inner regret when he compares his courage to that of the slain soldiers who pass through Dover. As simple as it might seem to escort a body, every character and every frame of Taking Chance are fully aware that this is no ordinary body. It is the body of a hero, a man cut down in the prime of life while fighting for his country. I had no idea that bringing home a dead serviceman was such a diligent and careful process, one which treats their sacrifice with the utmost reverence. As we were watching, my VC commented that she hopes every soldier is indeed given this kind of respect, for they so deserve it.

Once the cross-country flight begins, the film becomes a “meet-‘em-and-move-on,” that favorite sub-genre of mine which follows a character as he encounters various people on his journey. In this case, those people are ordinary Americans who recognize the significance of Strobl’s mission and treat it with empathy, kindness, astonishment, and solemnity. These people have varying relationships to the military, whether as soldiers themselves or friends or family of servicemen, and by the time Strobl’s mission is complete, he can honestly pass on to Chance’s family the sincere grief of a nation. Just as Strobl didn’t know Chance Phelps in life, many of us may not possess a personal connection with those who have died defending us. Yet Taking Chance is an emotional reminder that, regardless of political views or wartime objections, we all owe our soldiers a profound honor, one which they may not always feel in life but thankfully receive in death.

Best line: (Lt. Colonel Strobl) “If I’m not over there, what am I? Those guys, guys like Chance… they’re Marines.”   (Charlie Fitts, who knew Chance) “And you think you’re not? Want to be with your family every night—you think you have to justify that? You’d better stop right there, sir. You’ve brought Chance home. You’re his witness now. Without a witness, they just disappear.”

 Rank: Top 100-Worthy

© 2015 S. G. Liput

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