You don’t need a calendar to recall


“You tell this very, very simple, specific story about this guy and this kid and this one journey; then, hopefully, people start to think about the bigger picture of the families and the loss of life and the sacrifice.”

— Actor Kevin Bacon

By the calendar, I’m running late with a story about Memorial Day. Having a date to circle for barbecue and camping is handy, but it’s not necessary for the purpose of the holiday. So, in the same spirit that allows Christmas in July, I’m going to stretch the spirit of Memorial Day out just a little longer.

There are some things that every American should do. One is to barbecue something, anything over Memorial Day weekend.

Another is display a flag during at least one patriotic holiday of their choice.

Another is to seek out ways of appreciating the purpose of flying the flag. I’m faithful about flying my KC Chiefs flag during football season. I do it when they win, I do it when they lose. Obviously, I should give as much consideration to the American flag.

It doesn’t take much research to find something about our country to complain about. It’s the thing to do right now. It’s mess of sorts by nature, isn’t it? But it’s our mess, thank goodness. I’ve threatened to move to Canada (or Mexico…better beaches) but it’s all talk. Nice places to visit, but I’d rather be overtaxed right here.

Back to my third American “thing” to do: appreciate the purpose of flying the flag.

I have a few personal reasons for myself. One, my dad was a Marine. He met my mom during his service on a South Carolina beach in 1958 and swept her away to Kansas. How much more American can you get?

Two, peer pressure. I live in a small, proud American community. We do these things and it makes for a prettier drive through neighborhood streets.

Three, I have more connections with people who served during a time of war. I couldn’t say that a few years ago. But now, among others, my niece’s fiancé is in the Air Force and has served time in Iraq. I don’t know him well yet, but I’m already proud of him. And I’m proud of her for stepping into her new role as a military wife.

Losing makes us appreciate having. We felt the aftermath of 9/11 for months and years after it happened. People wrote songs and made movies about it.

Watching the news coverage of it all could have been my full time job —I became obsessed. We all did—and for a time, we were overcome with patriotism. It was one of those moments that we were quickly reminded of the flag’s meaning.

And we’re still in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s old news. At least I thought so until my husband showed me an HBO movie that shows war’s reality from a new angle.

Through this movie called “Taking Chance,” I learned that for each casualty of war, a uniformed military escort is assigned to travel with and watch over the body to ensure the fallen soldier gets back to their families in the most dignified way possible.

It shows the care taken, the respect shown, and the emotion drawn out of every person who has a hand in getting him or her home. Kevin Bacon plays Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, the volunteer military escort officer.

The movie doesn’t take sides, it doesn’t throw out pro- or anti-war messages. It’s not a war movie, really. It’s a simple and slow true story of a real kid who died a violent death in the name of service. One of many more stories we’ll never know about. But the Marine’s know. Kevin Bacon knows. The slain soldiers’ families know. And because of this show, we know—of one anyway, named Chance Phelps.

I’ve thought about him many times since I saw the movie a few months ago. I have a feeling I’ll think about him whenever I see a flag flying for a long time to come. As far as military experiences go, mine are all second-hand, but movies like this help bring it to the surface. If I’m lucky, it’s as close as I’ll get to the reality of war.

It doesn’t matter if it’s Veteran’s Day, Check Your Batteries Day (it’s real, March 8), or a week after Memorial Day. Today is a good time to give some thought to the people who’s lives were lived—or are being lived “first-hand.”

Learn about the movie at hbo.com/films/takingchance. Read the actual article about Chance written by Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, the escort soldier portrayed by Kevin Bacon at chancephelps.org.

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