Movie actor John Wayne had an undeniable fervor for America and the values he aligned with it. As a result, he defended them the best that he could on the silver screen and with his interactions with those who served. Wayne earned an award for “paying his dues” to America in his own way, as the U.S. government and his peers celebrated him for the same distinction given to George Washington and Thomas Edison.
Wayne had an image that was always associated with America, although it aligned with the conservative end of the political spectrum. Therefore, he alienated other moviegoing audiences who disagreed with his values and politics. However, the movie star earned an abundance of criticism after he didn’t follow his fellow Hollywood stars into the fray of World War II. Rather, Wayne stayed in America and continued to boost his career with a noticeable lack of male movie stars available to star in motion pictures.
Several different stories circulated as to why the actor didn’t serve, but he was the sole supporter of his family, which granted him an exemption. Even so, the damage was already done, and it harmed his image for the rest of his career and beyond.
Wayne doubled down on his fight for America when it came to defending its honor in other ways. According to 1979 U.S. Government Printing Office documentation, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, which is Congress’ highest honor for achieving something substantial for the country. Congress bestowed this honor on very few people, with the list including Washington, Edison, and the Wright brothers.
While many members of the American public didn’t necessarily agree with this, there were some outspoken supporters across Hollywood.
Frank Sinatra honored him, writing that “No man’s lifetime or work has given more proof to the world that our flag is still there John Wayne is in truth a star-spangled man whom so proudly we hail.”
The Dirty Dozen filmmaker Robert Aldrich emphasized that he was a Democrat and didn’t share any political views with Wayne. Nevertheless, he honored the actor’s “courage, his dignity, his integrity … his strength as a leader, his warmth as a human being … he is entitled to a unique spot in our hearts and minds.”
Four-time Oscar-winning actor Katharine Hepburn said, “With a heart full of love for all concerned: ‘About time.’”
Oscar-winning actor Gregory Peck also voiced his support, even after earning the Top Western Star of the Year award, which left Wayne feeling upset. He called his fellow actor an “authentic folk hero” who has contributed “inestimable value to American culture.”
Wayne didn’t serve in WWII, but he did feel that he served America in his own way. He went on tours to visit soldiers serving, and he represented the U.S. itself on the silver screen. In his mind, this acted as a form of entertainment, but it was also a source of morale and built a sense of love for one’s country.
However, Wayne’s sense of nationalism also got him into trouble. He took great pride in making The Green Berets, which acted as a piece of war propaganda surrounding the Vietnam War. Famous film critic Roger Ebert tore the film apart for how it approached the war and represented soldiers overseas.
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