Mr Secretary and Chief -
We wanted to provide information on a project the Air Force supported with the Marines as the lead, over the summer that is about to be released. The HBO film Taking Chance, starring Kevin Bacon, will have a world premier Jan. 16 at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, UT. It received the prestigious honor of being selected for the festival's Dramatic Competition. The Air Force assisted HBO Films and our U.S. Marine Corps colleagues in LA with on-location filming in July at McGuire AFB, NJ (standing in for Dover AFB).
HBO will broadcast the movie Sat., Feb. 21 at 8 p.m. HBO has posted a 1:53 preview clip of the movie on its web site. The clip includes brief interior and exterior scenes of a C-17 which were filmed at McGuire AFB with assistance from personnel from the Dover AFB, Mortuary Affairs offices.
Here's the clip: http://www.hbo.com/events/takingchance/
Here's the story:
Marine Corps Gazette - Quantico
Author: Michael R Strobl
Date: Jul 2004
The Nation mourns.
Chance Phelps was wearing his Saint Christopher medal when he was killed on Good Friday. Eight days later I handed the medallion to his mother. I didn't know Chance before he died. Today, I miss him.
Over a year ago I volunteered to escort the remains of Marines killed in Iraq should the need arise. The military provides a uniformed escort for all casualties to ensure they are delivered safely to the next of kin and are treated with dignity and respect along the way. Thankfully, I hadn't been called on to be an escort since Operation IRAQI FREEDOM began. The first few weeks of April, however, had been tough ones for the Marines. On the Monday after Easter I was reviewing Department of Defense press releases when I saw that a PFC Chance Phelps was killed in action outside of Baghdad. The press release listed his hometown-the same town I'm from. I notified our battalion adjutant and told him that, should the duty to escort PFC Phelps fall to our battalion, I would take him. I didn't hear back the rest of Monday and all day Tuesday until 1800. The battalion duty noncommissioned officer called my cell phone and said I needed to be ready to leave for Dover Air Force Base (AFB) at 1900 in order to escort the remains of PFC Phelps.
Before leaving for Dover I called the major who had the task of informing Phelps' parents of his death. The major said the funeral was going to be in Dubois, WY. (It turned out that PFC Phelps only lived in my hometown for his senior year of high school.) I had never been to Wyoming and had never heard of Dubois.
With two other escorts from Quantico, I got to Dover AFB at 2330 on Tuesday night. First thing on Wednesday we reported to the mortuary at the base. In the escort lounge there were about half a dozen Army soldiers and about an equal number of Marines waiting to meet up with "their" remains for departure. PFC Phelps was not ready, however, and I was told to come back on Thursday. Now at Dover, with nothing to do and a solemn mission ahead, I began to get depressed.
1 was wondering about Chance Phelps. 1 didn't know anything about him, not even what he looked like. I wondered about his family and what it would be like to meet them. I did pushups in my room until I couldn't do any more.
On Thursday morning I reported back to the mortuary. This time there was a new group of Army escorts and a couple of the Marines who had been there Wednesday. There was also an Air Force captain there to escort his brother home to San Diego.
We received a brief covering our duties, the proper handling of the remains, the procedures for draping a flag over a casket and, of course, the paperwork attendant to our task. We were shown pictures of the shipping container and told that each one contained-in addition to the casket-a flag. I was given an extra flag since Phelps' parents were divorced. This way they would each get one. I didn't like the idea of stuffing the flag into my luggage, but I couldn't see carrying a large flag, folded for presentation to the next of kin, through an airport while in my Alpha uniform. It barely fit into my suitcase.
It turned out that I was the last escort to leave on Thursday. This meant that I repeatedly got to participate in the small ceremonies that mark all departures from the Dover AFB mortuary. Most of the remains are taken from Dover AFB by hearse to the airport in Philadelphia for air transportation to their final destination. When the remains of a service member are loaded onto a hearse and ready to leave the Dover mortuary, there is an announcement made over the building's intercom system. With the announcement all service-members working at the mortuary, regardless of Service branch, stop work and form up along the driveway to render a slow ceremonial salute as the hearse departs.
Escorts also participated in each formation until it was their time to leave.
On this day there were some civilian workers doing construction on the mortuary grounds. As each hearse passed they would stop working and place their hardhats over their hearts. This was my first sign that my mission with PFC Phelps was larger than the Marine Corps and that his family and friends were not grieving alone.
Eventually I was the last escort remaining in the lounge. The Marine master gunnery sergeant in charge of the Marine liaison there came to see me. He had Chance Phelps' personal effects. he removed each item-a large watch, a wooden cross with a lanyard, two loose dog tags, two dog tags on a chain, and a Saint Christopher medal on a silver chain. Although we had been briefed that we might be carrying some personal effects of the deceased, this set me aback.
Holding his personal effects, I was starting to get to know Chance Phelps.
Finally, we were ready. I grabbed my bags and went outside. I was somewhat startled when I saw the shipping container, loaded three-quarters of the way into the back of a black Chevy Suburban that had been modified to carry such cargo. This was the first time I saw my "cargo," and I was surprised at how large the shipping container was. The master gunnery sergeant and I verified that the name on the container was Phelps', then they pushed him the rest of the way in and we left. Now it was PFC Chance Phelps' turn to receive the military-and construction workers'-honors. he was finally moving toward home.
As I chatted with the driver on the hour-long trip to Philadelphia, it became clear that he considered it an honor to be able to contribute in getting Chance home. he offered his sympathy to the family. I was glad to finally be moving, yet apprehensive about what things would be like at the airport. I didn't want this package to be treated like ordinary cargo, but I knew that the simple logistics of moving around a box this large would have to overrule my preferences.
When we got to the Northwest Airlines cargo terminal at the Philadelphia airport, the cargo handler and hearse driver pulled the shipping container onto a loading bay while I stood to the side and executed a slow salute. Once Chance was safely in the cargo area, and I was satisfied that he would be treated with due care and respect, the hearse driver drove me over to the passenger terminal and dropped me off.
As I walked up to the ticketing counter in my uniform, a Northwest employee started to ask me if I knew how to use the automated boarding pass dispenser. Before she could finish, another ticketing agent interrupted her. He told me to go straight to the counter then explained to the woman that I was a military escort. She seemed embarrassed. The woman behind the counter already had tears in her eyes as I was pulling out my government travel voucher. She struggled to find words but managed to express her sympathy for the family and thank me for my service. She upgraded my ticket to first class.
After clearing security I was met by another Northwest Airline employee at the gate. She told me that a representative from cargo would be up to take me down to the tarmac to observe the movement and loading of PFC Phelps. I hadn't really told any of them what my mission was, but they all knew.
When the man from the cargo crew met me he, too, struggled for words. On the tarmac he told me stories of his childhood as a military brat and repeatedly told me that he was sorry for my loss. I was starting to understand that even here in Philadelphia, far away from Chance's hometown, people were mourning with his family.
Last edited by Kahan on Wed Jan 14, 2009 10:08 am; edited 1 time in total