I was not there when John Wayne dropped by the Battalion CP of the 1st Marine Division’s Tank Battalion in 1966 at Chu Lai, Vietnam. Instead, I was in the field. I don’t remember what I was doing in the field. I was on a night patrol, a recon, an ambush or a field operation but I wasn’t there.
I was in the field getting shot at—a walking target with a radio on my back or driving a radio jeep with no armor. The jeep I drove in Vietnam was more than twenty years old and had a canvas top with open sides (no doors). Today, it would be unthinkable to send our troops into combat in one of those.
I was told Wayne drove in by himself in a 1945 Willys Jeep and walked around talking to Marines, drank a few warm beers with enlisted men then ate with the officers in their mess tent.
Years later, I wondered if Wayne really visited US troops in Vietnam and discovered, thanks to Google, that he did.
“Once again, John Wayne found himself in the midst of a heated political controversy. It started in June 1966, when Wayne visited Vietnam to cheer American troops on the front and wounded soldiers in hospitals. The mission of the tour was twofold: It was a good-will trip, and at the same time provided him the opportunity to gather first-hand material for a film.
“It is unclear whether the idea to make a film on Vietnam originated before or during the trip. Before he left for the three-week tour, sponsored by the Department of Defense, Wayne said he was “going around the hinterlands to give the boys something to break the monotony.” “I can’t sing or dance,” he said, but “I can sure shake a lot of hands.” Source: Emanuel Levy Cinema 24/7
If anyone instilled a sense of patriotism in me for the US (not its political leaders), it was growing up watching John Wayne movies.
As a child, I knew nothing of politics but too much, thanks to my mother, of God and the Bible.
My father didn’t believe in God, didn’t vote and didn’t belong to any political party. He deeply distrusted politicians and said they were all liars and couldn’t be trusted. Today, I suspect that what he believed came from having survived the Great Depression (1929 to mid 1940s). At fourteen, he dropped out of school to find a job to survive. He would work for forty-six years before he retired on a union pension.
It doesn’t matter if I agree with Wayne’s conservative, hawkish, right-wing politics, because his screen image did more to instill my sense of patriotism than anything else did. In fact, he may have agreed with my father’s political beliefs.
Wayne’s attitude toward politics was at best ambivalent, considering it a necessary evil. “I hate politics and most politicians,” he repeatedly declared, and “I am not a political figure.” At the same time, he conceded that, “When things get rough and people are saying things that aren’t true, I sometimes open my mouth and eventually get in trouble.”
“About the only thing you have to guide you,” he said, “is your conscience.” One should not let “social groups or petty ambitions or political parties or any institution tempt you to sacrifice your moral standards,” but he conceded that, “It takes a long time to develop a philosophy that enables you to do that.” Integrity and self-respect were his most cherished values, “If you lose your self-respect, you’ve lost everything.” Source: Emanuel Levy Cinema 24/7
Good for Wayne. I respect him for being true to what he believed and standing up for it. To this day, I wished I’d been there at my base camp in 1966 the day he drove in to visit the troops, so I could shake his hand and listen to what he had to say. Two years later, his movie, Green Berets, came out the same year as the Tet Offensive—considered by many to be the turning point in the war that led to the defeat of US goals.
What does patriotism mean to you?
His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.
And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.
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