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Lemme tellya Pilgrim

Did not serve

Don Adams (Get Smart) served with Marines on Guadalcanal. Wounded in battle, he later became a drill instructor . Eddie Albert (Green Acres) won the Bronze Star for actions during the Battle of Tarawa in the Pacific. James Arness (Gunsmoke) received The Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his actions at the Battle of Anzio. Walter Brennan (Real McCoys) served in WW 1 and was exposed to poison gas which ruined his vocal cords leaving him with the high pitch voice texture that made him a natural to play old men while still in his 30’s. Jimmy Stewart flew over 20 bombing missions in B-24’s over Europe, rose to the rank of Colonel, and was awarded many medals including the Distinguished Flying Cross. John Wayne, real name Marion Morrison, DID NOT SERVE. There were many top line actors who distinguished themselves in America’s wars (Henry Fonda, Clark Gable, Tyrone Power, and many more), but John Wayne was not one of them.

John Wayne, the quintessential war hero and patriot, never actually  served in uniform. There are some who claim that there were good reasons that kept John from service (a crumbling marriage, four kids to feed, old injuries, a skyrocketing career, can best serve at home making movies of WW2 heroes), but there were other stars under similar circumstances who found themselves in service. In 1944 Wayne received a 2-A classification, deferred in support of national interest. A month later the Selective Service decided to revoke many previous deferments and reclassified him 1-a, but Wayne’s studio appealed and got his 2-a repealed.

Author William Manchester (Arms of Krupp, American Caesar), while recovering in Hawaii from wounds suffered in the Pacific  during WW2 wrote  “One night they had a surprise for us. Before the film, the curtains parted and out stepped John Wayne, wearing a cowboy outfit and a 10 gallon hat, bandanna, checkered shirt, two pistols, chaps. boots and spurs. He grinned his aw-shucks grin, passed a hand over his face and said, Hi-ya guys! He was greeted in stony silence. Then someone booed. Suddenly everyone was booing. This man of fake machismo we had come to hate, and we weren’t going to listen to him.”

In the wake of his movies the line between John Wayne the man and the heroes he portrayed becomes blurred. Perhaps there are good reasons for his absence during WW2 and there are many who feel there are. Yet, by many accounts, Wayne’s failure to serve in the military was a very painful experience in his life. His widow (the last of three wives) said that his patriotism in later decades sprang from guilt. She wrote ” He would become a ” superpatriot” for the rest of his life trying to atone for his staying home.”

I think John Wayne was a patriot, but not a hero.

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8 thoughts on “Lemme tellya Pilgrim

  1. Lindy Miller Slaughter on said:

    Tyrone Power served with my dad in the Marines. Mom tells me that the two were sometimes confused. Dad was no star, but he was very charming with a great smile–and great head of hair!! He ended WW2 as major.

    Enjoy your posts! Lived for a time on Old Orchard Road in Mandeville. Lots of stories there, too…

  2. jeff tweedy on said:

    My image of the Duke is shattered .. Reminds me of Mathew Modine’s character ‘The Joker” in the 1987 stan kubrick Vietnam War masterpiece “Full Metal Jacket”. When confronted by other soldiers The Joker would impersontate John Wayne saying “.. after you pick the peanuts out of me shiiiiiaatttt”
    -Thank you, groovemaster

    • Jeff, I know if the Duke was still around he would slip on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, pour himself a large glass of warm tequila, and try to forget the error of his ways. Thanks for the nice comments and please pass Groove Central LA to Nels and the rest of the fellas. Keep on rockin

  3. Miguel on said:

    Are you sure the Duke didn’t serve in the Texas National Guard?

  4. 5-Pack on said:

    My grandfather, Jack Ward, served with Walter Brennan in WW1. He was also mustard gassed just like Walter … it was a horrible war. Not that there are any nice ones but that gas was nasty!

  5. Nanya on said:

    I have read that he kept thinking he would join up after his next film, or his divorce was final etc. Sometimes we put off doing even something we know to be the right thing. Fortunately for me, when I procrastinate the world doesn’t see it.

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