We all raised our beers and the room was christened. My daughter for the first time and I got back in touch with mine. As had been happening all day, indeed all week, people were thanking me for bringing Chance home. I was excited, relieved, expectant, and sad all at the same time. Although my mission had been officially complete once I turned him over to the funeral director at the Billings airport, it was his placement at his grave that really concluded the mission in my mind. That was the only thing she said to me the entire flight. Next were the lanyard and the wooden cross. The pilot and I talked about his service in the Air Force and how he missed it.
He was finally moving towards home. His eyes were watery as he relieved me of watching Chance so that I could go eat lunch and find my hotel. On my way I stopped by and visited with my son, my parents and the rest of my family. The first item I happened to pull out was Chance's large watch. They seemed a little choked up as they led me to my seat. I called the major who had the task of informing Phelps' parents of his death. With no other passengers yet on board, I talked with the flight attendants and one of the cargo guys. Later, a staff sergeant from the reserve unit in Salt Lake grabbed me and said, "Sir, you gotta hear this. A Marine sergeant, the command representative from Chance's battalion, met me inside. I saluted as Chance was moved up the conveyor and onto the plane. I felt that, as long as he was still moving, he was somehow still alive. The local VFW post had invited everyone over to "celebrate Chance's life. Then they placed him at his grave. In the escort lounge there were about half a dozen Army soldiers and about an equal number of Marines waiting to meet up with "their" remains for departure. In one corner of the room there was another memorial to Chance. Almost all of them had some story to tell about their connection to the military. At the hotel, the lieutenant colonel called me and said he would personally pick me up in the morning and bring me back to the cargo area. I was humbled beyond words. She told me a representative from cargo would be arriving to take me down to the tarmac to observe the movement and loading of PFC Phelps. Even here in Philadelphia, far away from Chance's hometown, people were mourning with his family. People were continually approaching me and the other Marines to thank us for our service. The CACO had some items that the family wanted inserted into the casket, and I felt I needed to inspect Chance's uniform to ensure everything was proper. He had a pouch with Chance Phelps' personal effects. It was not problem, I had volunteered to go. She saw her first baseball game and saw her first firework display at the ripe old age of
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