His final journey

HBO to document former Marine's trip home after fatal injuries in Iraq

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When Marine Corps Lt. Col. Michael Strobl volunteered to escort the body of 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Chance Phelps back to Dubois, Wyo., for burial, he was unaware that the experience would inspire him to write a touching tribute about Phelps' final journey.

That composition, titled "Taking Chance," would grab the attention of HBO Films and lead to plans for a movie depicting the trip across America for the fallen Marine.

Chance Phelps attended Moffat County High School until he and his mother moved to Palisade before his senior year.

Phelps graduated from Palisade High School in May 2003 and left for the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, Calif., less than a month later.

He was deployed to Iraq in February 2004 and was killed in action April 9 that same year.

Military personnel who die in Iraq are transported to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and are taken home by uniformed volunteers on active duty.

The story of that journey and the respect they received along the way -- from airport workers and pilots to members of the Dubois Veterans of Foreign Wars -- led Lt. Col. Strobl to document the trip in an emotional article.

HBO contacted Phelps' family about making a movie based on the article by Strobl. Film crews met with his family during the dedication of a building to Phelps at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

"I think it's great," Phelps' mother, Gretchen Mack, said about the planned movie. "That article that Mike wrote is a great way to honor him."

Mack said that in May at Twentynine Palms, film crews interviewed 50 or more Marines, as well as her and Phelps' father in preparation for the movie.

Mack noted the irony in that the same people who created "Band of Brothers," one of Phelps' favorite movies, would be making a movie about her son.

"We didn't have HBO when "Band of Brothers" came out," Mack said. "He would go over to a friend's house to watch it."

Mack said that her son already was leaning toward a tour in the Marine Corps before Sept. 11. What happened at the World Trade Center that day helped cement his decision.

Strobl's article notes that Phelps volunteered to man the .50 caliber machine gun in the turret of the lead vehicle in the convoy that was ambushed in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, that Good Friday he was killed. Phelps returned fire, covering the convoy until he was fatally wounded.

Chance's father, John Phelps, said that after talking with film crews, he thinks the movie will be a good tribute to his son.

"It's going to be handled the right way," John Phelps said. "It's not political at all. It's totally an honor for Chance's peers to recognize him for what he did in this movie."

One unexpected outcome of the movie for Mack is the friendships she has developed since the building dedication at Twentynine Palms. Marines came from hundreds of miles away to attend the ceremony and still stay in touch with Chance's mother.

"They are great people," Mack said. "All of his buddies stay in touch with me."

She has also developed a friendship with Strobl, and others who attended the funeral in Dubois. She looks forward to the movie's release, expected in 2007.

"It's a good way to honor my son," Mack said. "They could dedicate this movie to every serviceman that has ever fallen, to every family that has ever grieved."

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