John Excell immigrated to the United States from England in 1963. He got a job as a taxi driver, but it didn’t last.
Unemployed, he decided to join the U.S. Navy in 1964 after signing a paper saying he would become a U.S. citizen after his military days were over.
“I never intended to become a citizen,” he said. “But at the end, I did.”
Meanwhile, in Highland, Mike Voegele was deliberating over his own future.
Voegele said he “wasn’t looking forward to joining the Army.”
So, on on Jan. 2, 1964, shortly after he graduated from high school, he too enlisted in the Navy.
“I remember my recruiter saying the Navy offered one of the best photography schools. My recruiter said I was in a shoe-in with my photography background,” said Voegele, who studied photography under his father and would go on to become a very successful photographer in his own right before passing the family business, Voegele Photography Studio in Highland, over to his son.
No one could have forecast it, but the Navy would take both men and make them meteorologists.
In 1966, both men were stationed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Independence.
“I went into the weather guessing department, and that’s where I met Mike. That was the beginning and the end,” Excell said.
Aboard ship, the pair quickly became friends, and they remain close to this day.
In fact, of all the people who served aboard the Independence, the two only keep in contact with one another.
“I guess I’m desperate,” Excell joked.
It has been a relationship that has endured time — 49 years — and great distance — about 4,000 miles.
The two were not always so far apart, though. Excell followed his former shipmate to Highland at one point, where he would come to find employment — and a place to store a classic car.
Around 1970, Excell was stationed in Memphis, Tenn., where he had a 1926 Model T Roadster stored at another serviceman’s home.
But after that man was transferred, Excell didn’t know what to do with the car, recalled Voegele, whose three-year military career ended in 1967. But Voegele had an idea. His dad had a two-garage in Highland, which was only partially being used.
“I asked my dad if John could store his car there,” he said.
It took Excell two days to drive his Roadster to Highland from Memphis.
Excell would come to Highland himself after he got out of the service and worked in the data processing department at Basler Electric.
Excell has since returned to his native land. He lives about 50 miles south of London in Somsert, England, and restores antique furniture.
He comes to see Voegele once a year, including a visit last month. Voegele has also traveled to England about three times in the past 10 to 15 years.
Excell said his shipmate hasn’t changed too much over the years.
“He still looks young as ever. But he’s got a bigger tummy,” Excell said and grinned.
Voegele said Excel’s sense of humor hasn’t changed too much, either.
“When we get together, we still have a good time and laugh a lot,” Voegele said.