Bravo to Roger D. McGrath for his perceptive defense of John Wayne against liberal snipers (“John Wayne and World War II,” Sins of Omission, December). As Sergeant Stryker said to Pfc. Benny Ragazzi after he called up a Sherman tank to blast a Japanese pillbox in Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), “Ya did all right.”
However, I must point out two errors in his article. First, Wayne’s nickname (and what he had dubbed his large Airedale terrier) was “Duke,” and not “the Duke,” as is generally perpetuated by the uninformed. John Ford and other Hollywood intimates always called him Duke.
Second, the Navy aviation pioneer referred to by Dr. McGrath was Cmdr. Frank W. “Spig” Wead, and not “Weed.” Credited with the concept of “jeep” escort carriers, Wead was portrayed by Duke in Ford’s Wings of Eagles (1957).
—Michael D. Hull
Dr. McGrath Replies:
Nothing escapes the sharp eye of our Chronicles readers! “Duke,” as Michael D. Hull correctly notes, certainly was John Wayne’s nickname, given to him by firemen in Glendale. When Wayne walked to school, his Airedale, Duke, followed along. Since the dog couldn’t go into the school, Wayne left him at a fire station nearby until school let out. The firemen began calling Wayne “Little Duke” and, eventually, Duke. From then on when Wayne met people he said, “Just call me Duke.” I put the article in front of the sobriquet only because without it, and without the last name, it sounded like I was being too familiar.
Hull’s good eye also caught the misspelling of Wead. Spig Wead deserves an in-depth piece, and I suspect Hull could write it for Chronicles. An Annapolis grad, Wead served on several ships during World War I. Following the war he was the chief test pilot and promoter of aviation for the Navy, set numerous aviation records, and engaged in air races against his Army counterpart, Jimmy Doolittle. In 1926 Wead broke his neck in a staircase fall at home and was left partially paralyzed. He left the Navy and became a Hollywood screenwriter, penning such movies as Hell Divers, Ceiling Zero, China Clipper, Test Pilot, Dive Bomber, and They Were Expendable. He was nominated for two Academy Awards, and became pals and collaborated with John Ford. Despite his disability, Wead returned to the Navy during World War II. Get to writing, Hull!