Thursday, November 11, 2010

John Wayne Day

Today is November 11th, commonly known in the American entertainment industry as John Wayne Day in celebration of that non-serving actor's plethora of phony cowboy shoot-'em-ups and vaguely historical war movies. (I got my Vietnam draft deferrment the old-fashioned way. I volunteered for the draft, then got rejected at the Fort Des Moines induction center. They classified me 1-Y and promised to call me up when Ho Chi Minh invaded Iowa.)

Wayne was known for pompous bombast about patriotism and John Birch society conservatism, but the closest he ever got to serving in an actual shooting war was an Army training film in which he demonstrated how to use a P-38 (i.e., not the Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter plane, not the Walther P.38 pistol, but the guvmint issue P-38 C-ration can opener) for which reason U.S. Marines call it a John Wayne.

That's the polite version — the P-38 is also the dinkiest edged weapon in the Marine arsenal, frequently confiscated these days by TSA airport goons from decorated veterans who've carried one on their keychains for decades. A similar item in Australian Army kit with a stamped dimple in one end to serve as a "spoon" is called the FRED, or fucking ridiculous eating device (sic).

Wayne despised American Indians and Vietnam-era college students with "hippie" opinions, by which he meant liberals. He was owned, body and soul, by Republic Pictures, which educated generations of Americans in the delicate B-movie art of shooting first and asking questions later. The Great American Dumb-down continued for years after Marion Morrison, so it's not entirely his fault even though he had Ann Coulter's mouth and walk and cultivated both.

So, I do not celebrate John Wayne Day, but rather those solemn and silent men in my own family and among my father's veterinary colleagues who came back from WWII alive. I've known a veteran of the war in the Pacific who hated the Fourth of July because the noise of fireworks made him relive the endless threat, detonation and suspense of kamikaze attacks. He shuddered and put his jacket over his head, and we left early.

No John Wayne for me. It's tomorrow. I'd rather watch a Kia commercial.

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