He’s a classic film legend known for his portrayals as gun-slinging cowboys in the Golden Age of Hollywood, but what is the story about Wayne and the military during the Second World War?
Despite his countless depictions of war heroes on the big screen, John Wayne was never in the military.
After starring in 16 war films throughout his career, it’s only normal to wonder why Wayne didn’t serve in the war, considering every healthy and fit man at the time was expected to don a uniform and fight. Read ahead to uncover more about his relationship with the military.
John Wayne, whose birth name is in fact Marion Robert Morrison, is one of the most recognized actors in film and TV history. He was active from 1926 to 1977, starred in over 140 movies, and won both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for his performance in True Grit in 1970.
Duke (one of his most popular nicknames) starred in a plethora of Westerns, although he’s also known for his major roles in many military films, the first being Three Faces West in 1940. Some other of his more notable appearances in war-inspired flicks include They Were Expendable (1945) and The Longest Day (1962).
As he was 34 years old at the occurrence of Pearl Harbor, Wayne was exempted from having to serve, in addition to being listed with the Selective Service. He was classified as a 3-A, which meant that he was relieved of service due to his position as sole provider to his four children and wife at the time, Josephine Saenz.
Renowned film director, John Ford, who gave Wayne his breakout role in Stagecoach (1939) supposedly received letters from Wayne describing his desire to enlist.
However, this is disputed by the author of American Titan: Searching for John Wayne Marc Eliot, who suggests that Wayne never wrote to Ford, and instead wanted to continue his affair with German-American actress Marlene Dietrich.
Wayne was then reclassified as 1-A which meant that he could serve, but Republic Studios did not want to risk losing the critically acclaimed actor. He ended up being their sole A-list star with a contract.
The President of Republic Studios, Herbert J. Yates, intimidated Duke with a lawsuit if he left the pre-signed contract.
A quote from Wayne, posted on his posthumous Twitter account, reinstates his position that he was always dedicated to his roles when a contract was involved.
Missed His Chance
National Archives in the US has records showing that Wayne did apply to work at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).
Unfortunately, his acceptance letter reportedly ended up in the mailbox of his estranged wife. Whether she neglected to inform him about it, deliberately concealed it, or simply forgot about it, is unknown.
As a result of this mishap, he could not serve at the OSS.
Towards the end of the war, he visited multiple US bases, as well as hospitals in Australia and the South Pacific with the United Services Organization (USO). He traveled as part of an entertainment tour, donning his own USO army kit.
Following the tour, OSS Commanding Officer William Donovan memorialized Wayne’s tour work and participation with an OSS Certificate of Service.
Feelings of Failure
Due to his failure to serve during the war, Wayne later became a “superpatriot” of sorts, as outlined by Marc Eliot, “he would become a ‘superpatriot’ for the rest of his life trying to atone for staying home.”
Decades following the war, Wayne strongly expressed his patriotism, becoming a prominent member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. The organization was created in 1944 and aimed to protect the movie industry against communist claims.
The actor, director, and producer died in 1979 on June 11th. He had been suffering from stomach cancer, eventually succumbing to the disease after having enrolled in a vaccine study in defense of the illness.