19 February 2009


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 20 February 2009

This morning at 1100, Corporal Jonathan T. Yale, USMC (2nd Battalion/8th Marines) and Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter, USMC (1st Battalion/9th Marines) will be honored at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Virginia. These two heroes of the Corps will be posthumously awarded the Navy Cross—our Nation's second highest award for extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy force and going beyond the call of duty. A detailed account of their actions while serving in Iraq can be read on my 09 January 2009 commentary titled "SIX SECONDS." If not familiar with their story, as told by Tony Perry, then take a few minutes to read the commentary. Their unselfish actions extraordinary and it’s our good fortune to live in a land that produces men like them.

Corporal Yale and Lance Corporal Haerter, young men from different walks of life—yet both distinctly American—and assigned to different units, did not know each other before their units were conducting turnover in Iraq—one was soon to come home. It was during turnover and an unexpected moment of combat, bravely standing their ground to stop a fanatic enemy and protect Marines and Iraqis, their lives ended. In mere seconds two Marines died and the lives of their family and friends forever changed. Today, under bittersweet circumstances, the families and friends of Corporal Yale and Lance Corporal Haerter meet.

Corporal Yale and Lance Corporal Haerter are among many who have died protecting our way of life. Come April 9th it will be five years since Private First Class Chance R. Phelps, USMC was killed during combat operations in Iraq. Tomorrow, Saturday, February 21st , HBO will present “Taking Chance”—the story of Private First Class Phelps’ return home as told through the eyes of Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl, USMC who volunteered for military escort duty—an unusual act of brotherhood, outside the scope of protocol, tending to a junior Marine.

Private First Class Phelps was a member of 3rd Battalion/11th Marines—a 1st Marine Division artillery unit assigned to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California. Fittingly, a screening of the movie was shown this past Tuesday evening in the theater—Sunset Cinema—aboard the Combat Center. As is customary before show time on a Marine base, the crowd rose to respectful attention at the playing of our National Anthem followed by the Marines Hymn—combat footage accompanied the music. An HBO representative was in attendance to introduce the film.

“Taking Chance” is superb—void of usual Hollywood exaggeration, dramatic explosions, eye-candy special effects, larger than life super heroes who get the girl, and sloppiness portraying military men and women and the uniformed culture. For those not familiar with the process handling deceased military—from in-person family notification by an officer to escorted return of remains—the story of Private First Class Chance’s journey home is sobering and puts up close and personal perspective on the heartache and real cost of war. “Taking Chance” is simple story-telling through somber cinematography and a haunting score. Events are presented in tasteful, at times uncomfortable and painful, detail. Creatively shot scenes leave nothing and yet everything to the imagination.

The lead, Kevin Bacon, was superb. His performance convincing to the point of leaving Marines believing he’s not just a master mimicker but once wore the uniform—having earned the privilege the time-tested way; completing Officer Candidates School. None are more critical than Marines. Clearly, technical advising Marines scrutinized every detail of the characters—all was perfect—from uniforms to demeanor—on and off duty. Private First Class Phelps’ journey home was reenacted to perfection. And while the film captures one Marine’s final travel orders under the watchful eyes of another on Temporary Additional Duty, it serves as a documentary for every one of our nation’s men and women who have died defending our way of life. Know that Corporal Yale and Lance Corporal Haerter and thousands of others returned home to rest in the same dignified, respectful, and highly polished manner as Private First Class Phelps. It can be no other way.

The film runs well under 90 minutes and is one you wish did not end—for its end is final. As credits rolled, the theater was still, silent, and slow to empty as those in attendance digested what they had just seen. Too bad, as a final touch of reverence, the theater did not sound taps during credits.

Don’t miss “Taking Chance.” The film is not about politics. It is about sacrifice—from those who volunteer to venture into harm’s way to their family and friends who bear incredible loss and must find the strength to continue with life. It is about one Marine ensuring the safe and proper journey home of a fellow Marine. It is about Americans, across the country, paying respect and grieving for a fellow citizen—and his family—who gave his life for them. It is about a patriotic small hometown out west welcoming and honoring their fallen son.

Private First Class Phelps’ performance under fire was exactly that expected of a Marine. He was posthumously promoted to Lance Corporal and awarded the Bronze Star with Combat “V” (the “V” representing Valor)—among his other decorations including the Purple Heart and Combat Action Ribbon. Marines do not forget their warriors. Lance Corporal Phelps earned and secured his place in Marine Corps history. A few years ago a mess hall aboard the Combat Center was named in his honor. The spirit of Lance Corporal Phelps lives on in the Corps.

If Lieutenant Colonel Strobl’s account—his ‘Trip Report’ re-titled “Taking Chance”—escorting Private First Class Phelps home does not put a lump in your throat and cause pause of thanks, to live in a great country sharing the title “American” with him—Phelps—and the likes of him, it’s time to find another country to call home.

Visit: http://www.chancephelps.org/?page_id=126 to read Lieutenant Colonel Strobl’s account of “Taking Chance.”


Christian Haerter said...

Thank you for your kind words regarding my son Jordan and his heroism. I was able to watch "Taking Chance" on HBO on Saturday night. After watching the Marines meticulous choreography in honoring Jordan and Jonathan at the National Museum of the Marine Corps the night before, and having lived through the notification process when Jordan was killed, I was glad to see that the director of the movie nailed it. The details, as you said, from the uniforms to the red bag that held the personal effects were well researched. When Jordan returned home to us from Iraq, he was afforded a police escort from Dover all the way to Sag Harbor, NY with police vehicles joining in as they drove through different jurisdictions. Upon his arrival on Long Island, local volunteer fire departments had hung American flags from raised ladder trucks, people stood on overpasses with flags, random folks were on the side of the road with their hands over their hearts, and people pulled over on the highway to let his motorcade pass. Since he was killed, we find that the majority of Americans truly treasure the freedom that these young men and women provide and honor them in ways that they can....all hope is not lost...

As an aside, coincidentally, Major General John Kelly who nominated Jordan and Jonathan to receive the Navy Cross and who had personally interviewed witnesses and investigated the attack, was with Chance Phelps during the firefight that took his life.

Thank you again for honoring these men they way you do. Please keep them forever in your hearts.....

Christian Haerter
Proud Father of Marine LCpl Jordan C. Haerter, 1st batallion, 9th Marines who was killed in Ramadi, Iraq at the age of 19.

Anonymous said...

My pleasure, Mr. Haerter. My pleasure indeed.
Sincerely, A. F. Weddington