Fallen Palisade grad’s journey home subject of HBO movie

Gretchen Mack, right, grabs the Marine Corps flag that she’s wearing to keep it from blowing in her face as she walks with a small group of supporters from Whitewater to Grand Junction. Mack is on a 1,500-mile trek, which she expects to end in Dubois, Wyo., on Memorial day.

“Taking Chance,” the HBO film of the journey home to Dubois, Wyo., of Palisade High School graduate Chance Phelps after he died in Iraq, will air on Saturday.

The movie is based on the journal entries of Lt. Col. Mike Strobl of Grand Junction, who volunteered to escort home the remains of his fellow U.S. Marine, 19-year-old Phelps, when he saw Phelps’ name on a news release announcing casualties from fighting in Iraq.

Strobl wrote of his experience escorting Phelps’ remains from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to Dubois, which is Phelps’ hometown. Actor Kevin Bacon plays Strobl in the movie.

Smugglers Brew Pub and Grille, 2420 U.S. Highway 6&50, will host a showing of the movie at 6 p.m., and the head chef there, Karl Stephens, said he expects the house to be full.

“It’s a pretty dang great thing,” said Stephens, a retired Marine.

“Taking Chance” debuted last month at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. Many people already were familiar with the tale, which drew attention when Strobl posted his journal on the Web.

“Chance Phelps was wearing his Saint Christopher medal when he was killed on Good Friday,” Strobl began his account. “Eight days later, I handed the medallion to his mother. I didn’t know Chance before he died. Today, I miss him.”

Phelps died in an ambush in March 2004, a month after he was deployed to Iraq.

“Chance was an artillery cannoneer and his unit was acting as provisional military police outside of Baghdad,” Strobl wrote. “Chance had volunteered to man a .50-caliber machine gun in the turret of the leading vehicle in a convoy. The convoy came under intense fire but

Chance stayed true to his post and returned fire with the big gun, covering the rest of the convoy, until he was fatally wounded.”

Phelps was awarded the Bronze Star posthumously and promoted to lance corporal.

“I was wondering about Chance Phelps,” Strobl wrote in his journal as he waited overnight to begin the trip across the country with Phelps’ remains. “I 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.”

As he waited to watch the casket being loaded onto the train, Strobl realized that Phelps’ sacrifice touched sympathetic nerves among his countrymen.

“Even here in Philadelphia, far away from Chance’s hometown, people were mourning with his family,” Stobl wrote.

Phelps was carried on a horse-drawn caisson and buried “on the high ground overlooking his town,” Strobl wrote.

Friends of Phelps’ family are looking forward to seeing the movie, Stephens said. Many of them met his mother and sister when they walked through Grand Junction from Camp Pendleton, Calif., where Phelps’ unit was based, to Dubois.

“It’s going to be pretty emotional, a really hard movie,” Stephens said. “I don’t know if I can watch it all.”


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