remember exactly where I was when I heard the tragic news, over the
radio, about the death of a person who was very dear to me. Heck,
I had known him all my life - he was my role model - I wanted to be
just like Marion Michael Morrison.
Marion had done it all and he was, to me, the shining example of a
great American. After all, how many Americans can say that they flew
fighter planes in World War II, fought against the Apache, and shot
down bad guys in the old west? Well, if Marion was with us today he
could lay claim to all those things and more; why, he even fought
against Santa Anna at the Alamo.
I was working the graveyard shift at The Dow Chemical, in Freeport,
Texas, on June 11, 1979, when the shocking news about Marion came
across the radio. I worked alone in a brine-treating facility in one
of Dow's chlorine gas plants. And it was a good thing that I was by
myself, because the news brought me to tears; not something I would
have wanted the other guys to see.
Many thoughts raced through my mind that night. I wondered how my
life would be without Marion - he was the one who provided me with
some diversion from the problems and strain of my daily routine. When
I had troubles, I could always go to the local picture show, have
some popcorn, and watch Marion fight Indians or out-draw a bad guy
and then my world would seem normal again.
No, I knew my life would never be the same without the Iowa-born Marion
Michael Morrison. And after careful consideration, perhaps I should
use the name that Hollywood placed upon him in the late 1920s. I can
just hear him saying, "Pilgrim, you better cut out that Marion crap
and start calling me John Wayne!"
John Wayne, nicknamed "Duke," was a man of few words, most of the
time, but when he spoke nearly everyone listened. He made over 200
films, best I remember, and only won an Academy Award for one of them
- that being True Grit, which is not one of my favorites. In
my opinion, he should have won awards for The Searchers, The Quiet
Man, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, Red River, The Horse Soldiers,
The Cowboys, and The Shootist.
From the time he was discovered by director John Ford, Wayne showed
his versatile ability to play any role which was offered to him. Granted,
some of his movies were not so hot and most of those I don't even
remember but all the rest are burned into my brain - I can tell you
the names of the characters in most of the movies (my favorites),
and I catch myself reciting the dialog along with the actors.
As I write this, I remember even more of my favorite John Wayne movies
such as Rio Grande, In Harms Way, Fort Apache, and The Flying
Tigers. And who can forget Fighting Seabees, Sands of Iwo Jima,
Big Jake, Back to Bataan, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, The Comancheros,
Chisum, Cahill U.S. Marshal, McClintock, and The Alamo.
Several months after the death of John Wayne, his friend Ronald Reagan
was asked to write something about the actor. His tribute tells much
about the man. Reagan recalled the time when Wayne was in Dallas
for the premiere of Chisum. He returned to his hotel room late
one night to find a note tacked to his door. It was from a woman who
said her little daughter lay critically ill in a local hospital. The
woman wrote, "It would mean so much to her if you could pay her just
a brief visit." At 3 o'clock in the morning, he took off to the hospital
and visited the astonished child and every other patient who happened
to be awake.
John Wayne was always a solid backer of our troops. During the Vietnam
War, he was one of the few from Hollywood who firmly supported our
soldiers. In his tribute to Wayne, Ronald Reagan wrote of an incident
that occurred when Duke and actor Jimmy Stewart were traveling together
to attend an event; along the way, they encounter a group of demonstrators
who were carrying a Vietcong flag. Jimmy Stewart had just lost a son
in Vietnam. It seems that Duke excused himself and walked into the
crowd; when he returned there was no Vietcong flag.
I wonder sometime what John Wayne what think about the things that
are going on in today's world. I'll bet he would have already made
a movie, or two, about our brave kids fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
No doubt, he would probably have paid them a visit and told them how
proud he was of the job they are doing. He was like that you know,
a patriot to the core and a great American.
It's doubtful that John Wayne would have thought much about the rights
of our enemy; he probably would have figured that murderers give up
their rights when they kill innocent people and attack us on our own
soil. The John Wayne that I remember would have most likely been looking
for a rope rather than "due process" - but then again that's just
Duke had a saying about how he expected others to treat him. He used
that motto in one of the scenes from The Shootist when he said,
"I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, and I won't be laid a hand
on. I don't do these things to other people and I require the same
Although he never knew me, I feel that if we had ever met, Marion
and I would have been good friends - well anyway, that's the way I
like to imagine it.