Many people remember Richard Chamberlain as the beloved actor starring in Dr. Kildare and miniseries Shogun and The Thorn Birds, but the Richard Chamberlain I knew was definitely a different man. It was the July 4, 1967 week when we took our annual beach vacation with the Heft’s to Myrtle Beach, SC. It was during that trip that I met Richard Chamberlain and his friend Mac. Dick and Mac. At first, they seemed far more interested in the beautiful sisters Jean and Nancy Heft than they were in me, but it didn’t take long to figure out that the sisters were remaining loyal to their boyfriends back home. Having pretty much struck out, Richard Chamberlain kind of adopted me as his little brother.
Dick and I had a friendship that lasted well into my high school years until such time we sort of lost track of each other. You see, the Richard Chamberlain that I knew was a Captain in the United States Special Forces. Our friendship, beginning in 1967, spanned two tours in Vietnam and Dick’s several promotions from sergeant to lieutenant to captain. We wrote each other during his time in Vietnam. The letters were brief and often referring to nameless missions in which he participated. He often sent me packages with patches and uniforms and his green beret. He would draw little pictures in the letters about where the patches should be located on the uniform. It was as if I was living his tour with him.
One time, he was on leave in September 1967 and he and his mother stopped by the farm on his way from New York to Michigan to see his sister. I can’t tell you how excited I was to see him. It was as if God had sent me a big brother as a comfort for the one I had lost to a horrible accident in 1965. One of my last letters from Dick was in July of 1969 after he had married and had a daughter. He wrote: “Our daughter Laurie is fine. She’s walking around now and is really little terror. I plan to get out of the Army for good after this tour. Otherwise I’ll just end up being sent back to Vietnam for another year or so. And I wouldn’t care for that at all. I have my own “A” team now and enjoy my work, but will still be glad to get home. So now I’ve got to start scouting around for a job. Good grief!”
Richard Chamberlain was in my life for a season. He inspired me to patriotism, to academics, to an understanding of war and mission, to knowing certain survival skills. His friend Mac was killed in action during a Viet Cong attack on his special forces camp. Dick had escaped that attack having been sent to Hawaii for R and R. Those years of knowing Dick were precious. I still have his green beret (it’s on display in my office) and many of the patches he sent, but most of all, I have the memories of a fellow farm boy and a fine American. I tried to find Richard a few years back, but no one had a record of where he might be. But he gave me hope and encouragement at a critical time in my life. Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity.” It’s true. Never underestimate the power of friendship.