Even without film, group pays tribute to Phelps

Kevin and Deb Smith got the bad news Saturday morning — that a local brew pub that evening would not be showing the premier of an HBO film about Chance Phelps, a Palisade High School graduate and Marine killed in Iraq in 2004.

But that didn’t deter the couple from driving from their Clifton home to Smugglers Brew Pub, where they grabbed a table upstairs and met others to honor a man who died trying to protect his fellow Marines during an ambush.

The restaurants’ owners and head chef and retired Marine Karl Stephens had hoped to host a public viewing of “Taking Chance,” a film chronicling the journey of Phelps’ remains home to Dubois, Wyo. Grand Valley native and Lt. Col. Mike Strobl wrote a journal about escorting
Phelps’ remains, and it formed the foundation of the screenplay.

Trademark and copyright laws prevented Smugglers from playing the movie. Still, roughly 60 people showed up to swap stories and pay tribute to Phelps. The restaurant offered them a free drink and appetizer.

The group included the Smiths, whose son, Josh, graduated from Central High School last May and joined the Marines, becoming the fourth generation of his family to enlist in the military. Kevin Smith served off and on in the Army for 22 years.

Saturday, he showed a picture he keeps in his wallet of Josh in uniform. Deb Smith, a member of the Blue Star Mothers, an organization of women whose children serve or have served in the military, carried with her a copy of Phelps’ story as written by Strobl.

“He didn’t accomplish his mission because he died,” Kevin Smith said of Phelps. “But he completed enough to be rewarded.”

Phelps was honored posthumously with the Bronze Star.


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