Laura and I watched "Taking Chance" last night. It is an amazingly powerful
movie that made our eyes "leak" at times. I can only imagine how his family
felt when they watched it. Laura e-mailed Gretchen Saturday to let her know
we were thinking of her.
She is an amazing person and it's a pleasure to
know her. It does nothing, I'm sure, to ease the pain of losing a child, but
there must be a certain amount of pride in knowing the impact that Chance is
still making on America. His story is tearing down a wall of ignorance about
how we in the military value our fellow service members and their families.
That ignorance was put into words in the review by movie critic Ray Greene a
few weeks back. In it he says that Strobl "obsessively checks the casualty
reports" and that the care provided by the men and women at Dover was "as if
Magdalene were washing the wounds of Christ."
While I believe the entire critique was off base, I have a couple of
comments about those two statements, in particular. I will start with the
obsessing over casualty reports.
What Mr. Greene doesn't understand, and will never understand, is that the
"survivor guilt" he mentions is real. Marines in the "rear" often feel it
when their friends and loved ones are on the front lines. It's true, as the
old vet at the VFW pointed out to Lt. Col. Strobl, someone has to be in the
rear. But, that doesn't change the way you feel when you're sitting in a
comfy desk chair at the Pentagon reading the casualty reports. Every time
you read the list, dread fills your heart because you know it may include
someone you know. When it does, your guts twists like nothing Mr. Greene can
understand. The guilt becomes nearly unbearable and you struggle with it
That guilt often forces a decision. Some, like Lt. Col. Strobl, become
escorts or volunteer in some other capacity. Some, like me, hang up their
boots, having no more stomach for deployments and long separations. Some,
like my wife, face inevitable deployments months after having babies, and
decide to take off the uniform and raise children. Some say that's cowardly.
That's their right. I felt the same way for a long time.
But, in my case, I knew it wasn't the fear of the war that influenced my
decision. I am a Marine. I know why I was trained and I answered that call
several times during my career. For me, there became a realization that
there is no shame in leaving the Corps after 20 years of honorable service.
The colonel said in the movie that he "got used to seeing his family." I
felt the same way. I enjoyed traveling all over this world and seeing a lot
of good and bad stuff. Now, I want to see my wife and kids every night.
I believe every Marine who doesn't deploy in this war will struggle with
that guilt. Each of them has to come to his, or her, own terms with it.
Until they do, they will know no peace in their hearts.
Ray Greene can never understand that.
As for the treatment of our fallen at Dover, well, that is another thing
people like Greene can't understand. He is ignorant of how one servicemember
— no matter the branch — can painstakingly clean the wounds of one of our
dead and spend meticulous hours preparing a uniform that will never be seen
after it's in the casket. He can't understand the honor of that act.
In a country like ours, where historically less than one percent of the
population serves in the military, many people do not. It takes a movie like
"Taking Chance" to tell that story. America's citizens should know that the
care is not contrived in Hollywood. The care is real.
The world is full of people who just don't understand.
These people aren't stupid or dumb; they just don't get it. Ray Greene is
one of them. We have a duty to educate them, to let them know that the lives
we lead in the military are honorable. We don't love our fellow service
members because we want the world to see us a "good people." We love them
for what they do.
We, the 1 to 2 percent of the population who answered the call of duty to
our nation, know things that those who never served will never know. We know
that although Chance Phelps, and many others like him – sons, daughter,
husbands, wives, mothers and fathers – have left this earth physically,
their spirit is alive and strong in those of us who wear, or have worn, the
uniform and in our families. We will not forget or let naysayers take our
faith. We know.