As America prepares to celebrate another Memorial Day weekend, things get started with a birthday party: the 110th anniversary of John Wayne’s arrival on the land that he loved and grew to symbolize.
Wayne, born Marion Morrison on this date in 1907, created a mythical screen image and cast a long shadow across the landscape. Whether clothed in Cavalry blue, a cowboy’s chaps and spurs or a gunslinger’s half-empty cartridge belt and Colt revolver with its aging yellow grips, “The Duke” set a standard by which the rest of us are measured, like it or not.
Wayne’s film characters invariably telegraphed a demeanor that villains may have disliked, but they ended up respecting or regretting in the final reel.
As Captain Nathan Brittles in “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” – a role for which he should have at least been nominated for an Academy Award – he told a subordinate, “Never apologize and never explain. It’s a sign of weakness.” It’s a lesson that apparently was lost on the past administration, which some people might suggest has led the world to where it is today.
How would Wayne negotiate with a terrorist? His Jacob McCandles put it undiplomatically to bad guy Richard Boone in ‘Big Jake” for kidnapping his grandson: “Now you understand. Anything goes wrong, anything at all… your fault, my fault, nobody’s fault… it don’t matter… I’m gonna blow your head off. It’s as simple as that.” Even Kim Jong-un should understand that.
In his final film, Wayne, as dying gunfighter John Bernard Books, explains to Ron Howard how he had survived so many life-or-death encounters: “It isn’t always being fast or even accurate that counts. It’s being willing. I found out early that most men, regardless of cause or need, aren’t willing. They blink an eye or draw a breath before they pull the trigger. I won’t.” Would anybody care to tangle with a man who possessed that sort of resolve?
British novelist D.H. Lawrence may have best summed up what was almost invariably defined by Wayne’s resolute screen image that may have grown out of what Lawrence saw as true Americana: “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.”
Off-screen, Wayne said some things that also seem to have been lost on too many Americans. For example, one of his quotes listed by the Daily Caller observed, “You’ve got the strongest hand in the world. That’s right. Your hand. The hand that marks the ballot. The hand that pulls the voting lever. Use it, will you.”
But perhaps one of his quotes best sums up what should be in the American heart today as the nation remembers all of those who lost their lives so we could enjoy the beer and barbecues this weekend:
“Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”