John Wayne – Amercian Hero?

John%20Wayne%20(Flying%20Leathernecks)   This weekend TCM pays tribute to America’s fallen heroes with three days of mostly pro-war films  like The Flying Leathernecks (1951) and They Were Expendable (1945) both featuring the always hard-ass but plastic patriot John Wayne. When the war broke out stars like Henry Fonda, Robert Stack, Clark Gable and James Stewart joined the military.  Wayne on the other hand did not. Though eligible, he felt his career was more important. Wayne managed to obtain a 3-A status, “deferred for family dependency.” He had four kids. Additionally, El Duko’s career was  not on solid ground at the time. He had just completed Stagecoach and was on the road to stardom. Four or five years of military service could have ruined that. Additionally, actor’s in general, were given a bit of leniency because the Gov’t considered Hollywood a propaganda machine for the war effort.

Back to Bataan - inside   Wayne made more than fifteen movies during the war including four war films, The Flying Tigers (1942), The Fighting Seebees (1944), Back to Bataan  (1945) and They Were Expendable (1945). He fought hard, he fought heroically,  he fought in some of the biggest battles on  celluloid.

   As the war went on, more Americans were needed in uniform and Wayne was one of many re-classified as 1-A, eligible to serve. To his credit, there seems to be no record that he objected or fought the re-classification. However, Republic Pictures, who Wayne was still under contract to, did request he be re-classified again. This time with a 2-A deferment in the name of national interest. Wayne was Republic’s biggest star and they did not want to lose him.

   Pat Ford in his book on his grandfather, Pappy: The Life of John Ford claims Ford tried to get Wayne a commission and attached to his OSS Photographic Unit, however Ford writes “…that the billets were frozen in 1943. John (Ford) couldn’t get Wayne in as an enlisted man, much less an officer.”


   Meanwhile, Henry Fonda enlisted in the Navy where he served for three years. He  was honored with a Bronze Star and Presidential Citation Award rising to the rank of Lt. Junior Grade. James Stewart enlisted in the Army becoming a member of the Army’s Air Corps where he became a bomber pilot and a command level officer during the war. He flew at least twenty bombing  missions including bombings over Berlin and Frankfurt. By the end of the war he rose to the rank of Colonel. Stewart’s military career continued after the war as he became a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserves rising to the rank of Brigadier General.

   As for John Wayne, his military career would “gloriously” continue to be fought in Hollywood with films like The Wings of Eagles (1957), Jet Pilot (1957), The Longest Day (1962), In Harm’s Way (1965) and the infamously bad The Green Berets (1968). 

   John Wayne, celluloid hero, yes. American hero? Not so much.

13 thoughts on “John Wayne – Amercian Hero?

  1. Agreed. I still enjoy a number of his movies and roles even now, but we part ways in his politics and choices. I recall reading John’s third wife, Pilar, said her husband “would become a ‘superpatriot’ for the rest of his life trying to atone for staying home” during WWII. Definitely changed his relationship with John Ford, too. As Ford’s last great film, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, coined: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”


  2. I like some of his films too. Mostly, the Ford films and a few others. I watched The Flying Leathenecks the other day only because it was directed by Nicholas Ray. It’s a bit of mess and Wayne plays he usual tough guy no Nonsense role. That ‘s when I decided to write this post.


  3. I read a biography on JW for a blog I wrote a while back, on Ford and Wayne(Cinemaven’s blogathon about directors/actors or actresses that symbiotic relationship.) Wayne did try various times to get on to one of the OSS assignments, and did ask Ford for help, but it never came to any fruition. He also did visit troops in the South Pacific, spent about a week with marines and naval personnel on an island in the South Pacific, and what impressed the men he visited(part of a USO tour Wayne did) was that he didn’t ask for any special treatments. He ate the same food as the men, put up with the mud, stench, filth, etc. and his visit did boost the morale of the men he visited. If you want to seek out the book, it is titled John Wayne: The Life and Legend, by Scott Eyman.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jenni, Dan Ford mentions the attempt get an OSS assignment also in his book. None were available. However, JW was originally classified 3A – deferred for dependents. He could have had that reclassified to 1A but I think, obviously he just let it be. Henry Fonda probably could have gotten the same 3A status but chose to go into the military and serve. I was aware of his USO tour.

      My problem is people, over the years, have made JW to be a real American hero. I’ve heard this over and over what a great American hero he was. My take is, not really. A lot of men and women served in the Armed Forces, no matter in what capacity. They were called and they went. Some died. All these people are closer to heroes than JW. What has JW done to make him a hero other than on celluloid. I will check out the Eyman book And thank you for your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A good post indeed. Wayne made two really fine films in my estimation, Stgecoach an d Red River ans some ok action adventure things, like Wake of the Red Witch. His off screen he-man /super patriot shtick however left me cold.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by. I would add a few other Ford films into the mix (Fort Apache, The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) along with Rio Bravo and The Shootist, all of which I really like.


      1. Oter than The Searchers which I think was basiclly an old west trope which further dehumanized Indigenous Americans, I agree, good films, particularly The Shootist.


      2. I know what you mean. It is racist but like many other films it was a product of it times.


  5. Interesting article, the fact Wayne never served continues to haunt him. I think he was more intelligent and articulate than he’s often given credit. My views of him changed after listening to an interview he gave with film critic Tony Macklin. I also wrote my own piece that touched upon Wayne’s legacy here

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Eric and welcome. Wayne was a large on screen personality that the screen loved. He was fortunate enough to work with some great directors like John Ford and Howard Hawks that knew how to use him to theirs and his best advantage. That said, in his early days of fame as the war began, he was insecure about his staying power as a star, especially if he was drafted and disappeared from the screen for four years or so. That says a lot about someone. He probably regretted it in later years.. I will check out your piece. Thanks!!!


  6. HI John, Interesting article on the Duke there. Most of what I wanted to say has been said about him already. Outside the States he is still seen as the personification of what America is. I know from reading Scott Eyman’s biography on him, he did regret his lack of service, so made up with his patriotism. Of course that wont always make up for his lack of service to many. More recently his legacy has been tarnished by the refusal of one State to have a John Wayne Day, which is based on his political views, he was a product of his time and upbringing, which is no fault of his own. I don’t agree with his politics. Anyway enough of that, thanks for sharing, for me a twenty something in the UK I adore the actor, the man I have to pick and choose what I admire.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Tim, you bring up a good point about pick and choose what you admire about a person. I do the same thing when it comes to artists. I can admire the art even If I do not like the person. Woody Allen is an example. I have always liked Woody’s films, standup, writing, etc. This despite his personal life being questionable. Thanks for your thoughts!


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