Dear John Wayne,

It’s a pity that people from my generation tend to think of you as an older gentleman who only starred in Westerns. I must say, you were a damn good looking fellow in your day, and mighty respectable to boot. Since you were such a consummate American, I understand why it embittered you so to see all of your friends go to war while you were left at home because you were too old (really, 34 was too old?), because you had too many dependents, because Republic Pictures made you stay. What a radically different time the ’40s were, in which a man felt ashamed for not going to war; nowadays, we frown upon those who do choose to go. But I digress.

I recently went on a WWII kick and rewatched Band of Brothers, in which the boys make a jab at you for portraying a soldier even though you never were one (and not for lack of trying). Their anger is clearly misdirected, as you contributed in other ways, even if you didn’t join the troops like so many other actors. At home, you were a vibrant part of the war in Hollywood, boosting morale at home, even after the war ended. 1949’s Sands of Iwo Jima became the quintessential flag-waving WWII film, doing for 1940s audiences what Saving Private Ryan did fifty years later in terms of bringing the reality of war to viewers. Yet, what really makes the film important is your portrayal of Sergeant Stryker. Despite never having been a soldier, you capture his brashness, strength, loyalty, and vulnerability in a way that won the respect of veterans and renewed the country’s support of the Marines. The script is predictable and the film ends abruptly, but you leave us with three essential things: admiration for Stryker, respect for the Marines, and pride in the United States.

Good night, Mun

P.S.  I was quite pleased to hear of a few sentimental homages in Sands of Iwo Jima. The flag used in the film is the actual heirloom from the iconic flag-raising on Mount Suribachi. Also, three of the six soldiers who raised that flag at the real Battle of Iwo Jima were flown to Camp Pendleton to participate in the film’s reenactment of that historic moment.

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