June 11, 2006
Celebrating an American OriginalBy Shawn Black
Every June, I am reminded by the life and death of a man who became an Integral part of not only our family, but America as well. On June 11, 1979, America mourned the passing of John Wayne.
The life and legacy of John Wayne, continues to take center stage in the lives and hearts of Americans everywhere. Millions of veterans, volunteers and families continue to emulate Duke's example of strength, courage and quiet dignity.
Like so many Americans before him, he was the child of Irish Immigrants. As a young man, he became devoted to hard work, hope and dreams. He threw newspapers as a boy, and achieved a USC football scholarship, until a shoulder injury changed his fate.
Then he did something ordinary and hard working Americans did in that era.
He dusted himself off and got back on his horse.
During the nation's great depression era, he worked his way up from the bottom of Hollywood 'B' movies. He labored hard as a prop man for the film studios and hired hand. His dedication became a nation's destiny and when he caught the eye of Director John Ford. The rest is history.
As John Ford hammered, chiseled, and polished this American original, John Wayne realized that his American characters (and their importance) were as big and wide as Monument Valley. His roles were shaped by his personal values and became an integral part of his life. And along the way, they became a part of America as well.
From his roles as Captain and Calvary leader Nathan Brittles and Lt. Col. Kirby York, The Duke became a symbol of American Steel and stalwart service.
The Duke's legacy and his portrayal of American virtues became known throughout the World. From Nikita Khrushchev to Emperor Hirohito, they discovered that John Wayne's America was indeed the embodiment of the American character.
And that's why for over twenty five years, the Duke has remained on the top ten lists of popular actors. Nobody has even come close to this posthumous achievement. They never will.
It was the football injury that dashed the Duke's dream of Annapolis and serving in the Military. Once again, he turned disappoint into devoted duty. He accepted his calling and enlisted in our nation's service in what would become a life long dedication to America's military.
When America needed him the most, he proudly served as America's goodwill ambassador and best known advocate. He poured himself into roles that exemplified America's strength, and commitment to defeating America's enemies at home and abroad.
After World War Two and during the Cold War, John Wayne joined forces with Ronald Reagan. They boldly spoke out against the scourge of communism that had infiltrated Hollywood and the nation's college campuses. The Duke wasn't interested in U.N. Photo shoots, or using the film industry to undermine morals or family values. The Duke believed in substance, not style. And Hollywood could certainly learn a lesson from the Duke today.
He was a man who didn't draw attention to his midnight hospital visits with children suffering with cancer, or the time he flew into a Vietnamese war zone to rally American Troops. He loved America and America loved him.
Like 'Sgt Stryker' in the sands of Iwo Jima, as children we all played 'John Wayne'. And along the way, millions of young men followed his cinematic example and joined the Armed Services. We grew from boys to men.
America learned from John Wayne how to be patriotic when being patriotic wasn't popular among the chic set. And four generations of our own military family experienced no greater joy during basic training, than foraging through Army C—rations in hope of discovering a 'John Wayne' bar consisting of a chocolate and toffee confection.
Perhaps in this time of moral confusion, when everything that is right, is attacked as being wrong, we could use the wit and wisdom of Rooster Cogburn.
Today, America is rediscovering the Duke as we watch and reflect on his beloved roles, shaping our understanding of the heart and character of service.
In his closing years on earth, someone asked the Duke how he wanted to be remembered. He said...'Feo, Fuerte y Formal' A Spanish proverb meaning 'He was ugly, strong and had dignity'