Reflections of a Gold
Star Mom
“Seventeen years later, I can talk….”
On April 9, 2004, at approximately 13:30, outside of Ar Ramadai, Iraq, Private First Class Phelps and his unit were providing convoy escort for Brigadier General John F. Kelly when they came under small arms fire.
Despite being wounded, Phelps refused to be evacuated and manned his machine gun to cover the evacuation of his convoy. Upon withdrawal, he sustained a fatal wound to his head.
Corpsman Chad Peabody and Sergeant James Cooper were with him. Phelps was 19 years old.
At two o’clock in the morning, two uniformed Marines arrived at the home of Gretchen and Jeff Mack, PFC Phelp’s mother and stepfather, in Dubois, Wyoming.
Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl escorted PFC Phelps’s remains home, to Dubois, Wyoming. At the funeral, there was an unexpected visitor.
LTC Strobl kept a diary of his journey and wrote an essay called, “A Marine’s Journey Home” which was published in the San Francisco Chronicle. LTC Strobl later helped write the screenplay for Taking Chance, a film adaptation of Phelp’s final journey.
A Change in Policy
“We were so clueless as parents, as citizens. We had no clue that the military did all that.
And at that time, when Chance was K.I.A., families were not allowed to go to Dover. But because of the movie, that’s why they built the family center. Remember how they could never show flag draped coffins? There was a big deal about that.
I was like, ‘No. The public needs to see this.’
They need to see it’s not dishonorable. It’s not disrespectful. And because of the movie, they changed public policy. And they built that center for the families at Dover so that when your loved one is flown to Dover from overseas, you can go visit them one last time.”