Sunday, June 5, 2016

How John Wayne saved the United States Marine Corps

By Susan Frickey,
Center for Self Governance Student and Coach's Team contributor

With the conclusion of WW II the years of bloodshed and mind-numbing violence finally ended. But a massive demobilization of servicemen began, the purpose to slash military spending.  Liberal Democrats supported an effort to completely abolish the Marine Corps, first established under Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
Language of Liberty

This effort was supported by the Doolittle Board, created by the Truman Administration and headed by none other than Army General Jimmy Doolittle himself. The Board called for the Marine Corps to be disbanded as a separate military outfit and unified with Army units.

As you can imagine, this didn’t go over well with Marines who had sacrificed so much to the war effort and distinguished themselves for valor and bravery against all odds, often over and above the call of duty during those brutal years.  Several enterprising Marines with Hollywood connections thought a movie built around the famous Joe Rosenthal photo of the Mount Suribachi flag raising on Iwo Jima would help secure public support of the Corps.

The Marine veterans brought the idea to Hollywood director Allan Dwan who saw the merit in it and wanted to be involved in the project.  The movie was to be called “The Sands of Iwo Jima” and everyone agreed the only big name Hollywood star fit to play the role of hero Sgt. John Stryker was John Wayne.

Wayne read the script, didn’t like the adaptation and turned it down.  Never ones to back down from a fight, the Marines had Marine Corps Commandant, General Clifton B. Cates board a flight from Washington to California to personally explain to Wayne what was at stake – the very existence of the United States Marine Corps.  Wayne immediately changed his mind and promised the General he would do whatever it took to make the movie a success.

The Sands of Iwo Jima was released in 1949 and immediately became a blockbuster. Millions of Americans packed into movie theaters to see it.  Wayne was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, which took him from number one box-office star to movie legend.

The Doolittle Board quietly disintegrated and no politician on Capitol Hill has ever again suggested disbanding the Marine Corps.

There are critics of John Wayne who point out that he did not serve his country by putting himself in harm’s way like Lee Marvin, Jimmy Stewart, Robert Stack, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and many others.  When the war broke out, Wayne tried to enlist but was rejected because of old football injuries and a bad back from years of doing his own stunts.  In addition, he was 34 at the time and a family man with four children.  He then flew out to Washington to plead that he be allowed to join the Navy.  They turned him down flat.  So he poured his heart and soul into the war effort by making inspirational war films, helping to get public support and resources for our military.  He continued supporting our military through the Viet Nam war by making “The Green Berets” – another blockbuster.

He may not have seen actual combat like so many, but saving the United States Marine Corps from extinction was an accomplishment no one but John Wayne could have pulled off.
Big Duke as Sgt Stryker

Thirty years later, in October 1979, Ronald Reagan’s biography of his dear friend John Wayne appeared in Reader’s Digest. Reagan imparted this advice: “Don’t ever trust a man who doesn’t like John Wayne.  A man’s opinion of John Wayne is a good rule-of-thumb test of his character and moral values.  To admire John Wayne is to admire the heroic and the morally noble.  To sneer at John Wayne is to admire the opposite.  It’s revealing that you find very few liberals among his admirers, and very few conservatives among his detractors.”

As of 2010, John Wayne continued to be ranked third as America’s favorite male film stars, even though he died in 1979, is the only deceased actor on the list and the only actor to have appeared in the top ten every year since the poll was started in 1994.  He once said, “It’s kind of sad when normal love of country makes you a super patriot.”

The Language of Liberty series is a collaborative effort of the Center for Self Governance (CSG) Administrative Team.  The authors include administrative staff, selected students, and guest columnists.  They may be contacted at To learn more, go to


  1. The Marine Corps has even survived almost eight years of Obummer and his handlers. Semper fidelis!!