Ever since I can remember, John Wayne has been the actor the left most loves to hate.  While the left’s criticisms of him are many, the one that seemed to have the most validity was his failure to serve his country during World War II.  “He’s a big phony,” I was told by leftist classmates in junior high.  “His patriotism is all a sham.  He’s a draft dodger.”  This stung.  Most of us loved the characters John Wayne portrayed, and we wanted to believe that he was just like them in real life.

My big brother, Dave, had served in the Air Force with the Duke’s oldest child, Mike Wayne, and had met the dad.  “He’s just like the guy you see on the screen,” said Dave.  When I asked my brother about Wayne supposedly “shirking his duty,” Dave explained to me that there was a lot more to the story, and that Wayne actually wanted desperately to get into the service.  Moreover, research by Dan Gagliasso, a personal friend and a documentary filmmaker, reveals that Wayne undertook a mission for the Office of Strategic Services.

At Glendale High School, Marion Morrison, as John Wayne was then known, excelled both in the classroom and on the football field, and was president of his senior class.  He hoped to get an appointment to Annapolis but was chosen as an alternate.  With the Naval Academy on hold, he accepted a football scholarship to the University of Southern California in 1925.  He played for a year, but then severely injured a shoulder, not on the gridiron but bodysurfing at Newport Beach.  The injury ended his football career and would bother him for life.

Performing many of his own stunts in dozens of B-Westerns during the 1930’s left him with a chronically bad back.  Prolonged underwater scenes during the filming of Reap the Wild Wind in 1941 damaged an inner-ear canal.  When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in their sneak attack, Wayne was a very old 34.  He also was the father of four children.  The Selective Service classified him 3-A, deferred for family dependency, but had he taken a pre-induction physical it is likely that his injuries would have made him 4-F.

During the war, Wayne was under contract to Republic Pictures and the studio’s most popular star.  When Wayne told Republic’s boss, Herbert Yates, that he wanted to enlist in the service, Yates yelled, “You should have thought about all that before you signed a new contract!  If you don’t live up to it, I’ll sue you for every penny you’ve got.  Hell, I’ll sue you for every penny you hope to make in the future!”

Nonetheless, Wayne wrote to John Ford, who was commanding the OSS Field Photographic Unit, asking for his help.

Have you any suggestions on how I should get in?  Can I get assigned to your outfit, and if I could, would you want me?  How about the Marines?  You have Army and Navy men under you.  Have you any Marines or how about a Seabee or what would you suggest or would you?  No, I’m not drunk.  I just hate to ask for favors, but for Christ sake you can suggest, can’t you?  No kidding, coach, who’ll I see.

Duty in Ford’s unit was no cakewalk: 12 men were killed, and Ford himself, among several others, was seriously wounded.

In May 1943 a Navy officer responding to an earlier inquiry from Wayne told him that Navy and Marine billets for the Field Photographic Unit were full, but that he might try getting into the unit through the Army.  Wayne subsequently completed a 24-page application to the OSS.  He lists Navy commanders John Ford and Frank “Spig” Weed, one of the pioneers of Navy aviation, as personal references.

By mid-September 1943, Wayne’s security clearance had been approved, and all was ready for his commissioning.  But days and then weeks went by with no action.  In late October, Mary Ford wrote to her husband that Wayne was “in an uproar because his commission didn’t materialize.”  However, it seems that William “Wild Bill” Donovan of the OSS had something else in mind for Wayne.  In December, Wayne received travel orders from the War Department for a tour of the Southwest Pacific.  By January he was in New Guinea.  Wayne was everywhere on the various fronts.  “While the Japanese were bombing us in Port Mores­by, New Guinea,” said Richard Singleton, “who should show up at our battalion headquarters but the ‘Duke’ in person.  He didn’t have to visit us, but he did.”

When Wayne returned to the states, he reported to the OSS.  At the end of the war he was issued an official certificate stating that he had “honorably served the United States of America as a member of the Office of Strategic Services.”  The certificate is identical to all others issued to veterans of the OSS and is signed by Maj. Gen. William J. Donovan.  John Wayne may not have been Sergeant Stryker, but he wasn’t the draft dodger of his enemies’ propaganda, either.