Old friends

I first met Duncan Christie-Miller in the blistering summer of 1973 at Camp Lejeune,  North Carolina.  He was a British Royal Marine officer on exchange to our elite Marine Force Reconnaissance Battalion.

I had just arrived fresh from officer training at Quantico and the Navy Justice School.  It was the tail-end of the Vietnam War and virtually all Marine troops had returned stateside from Vietnam.    Many were disillusioned and bitter and racial tensions were high. It was the wild west and the fourteen of us young judge advocates at the Division’s legal office tried more felony cases in six months than the Air Force did in a year.  Cases ranged from larceny at the P.X. to astoundingly brutal murders.

I was getting lots of great legal experience, but I needed an outlet to get away from the demanding workload.  One evening I was having dinner at the Officer’s Club with Mike Wheeler, a graduate of the Naval Academy, when we noticed the Royal Marine sitting alone.  We had seen him a year earlier when he presented a rappelling demonstration at The Basic School.  He had the charming elan and expertise that the military Brits seem to have in abundance and it was one of the few lectures I can recall during that six month training period that I didn’t feel like drifting off.  “Wheels” called him over to share a drink with us.

We got to talking rugby football and got Duncan to help establish and coach our club.  The Lejeune Lions didn’t exactly tear up the rugby pitch, but we did manage to beat an Army side from Fort Bragg.    During a match in Norfolk, Virginia, we were outclassed by a team that consisted of Navy Seals and some civilians just off the boat from Ireland.  When they heard Duncan’s accent he was in for it and took some poundings before some of our Marine recon players replied in kind.  As he was going under one particularly violent pile Duncan was heard to shout “You hashish-smoking bastards!!”  Why he happened to come up with that was anyone’s guess, but it did provide for a few laughs at the post-party.

That was 38 years ago and while I’ve lost track of “Wheels, ” Duncan and I remain close friends.  Although separated by half a continent and the Atlantic Ocean we’ve managed to get together over the years and share old stories and bring each other up to date on new experiences.  He lives in London and when he’s not visiting his properties in Perth, Australia, or Majorca, Spain, he’s climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or traipsing around Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf.

Two years ago Duncan called to suggest we begin a cross-county tour in the U.S. promoting a fitness plan for folks over 50 years old called Zest for Life.  With the blessings of my wife, I met up with Duncan in Washington, D.C., after his flight from London and we set out in my Jeep heading west along I-70.  The idea was to pitch our marvelous idea to aged couch potatoes.  Of course, it all came to naught.  Duncan managed to charm his way onto a morning television show in Pittsburgh and an earlier morning radio program in Wheeling, West Virginia, but no other media outlets showed interest.  By the time we reached Columbus, Ohio, Duncan had had enough.  We played a nice round of golf in Circleville, home of the world’s largest pumpkin festival, and Duncan flew home the next day.  I drove back to K.C. mentally reviewing what this quixotic little adventure had cost.  From a business standpoint it never had a chance, but making money was never the point.   It was goofy and fun and as we parted ways we were already talking about on our next caper.

That’s me on the left, Duncan on the right.

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