One of the biggest Hollywood stars in history is John Wayne.
Best known for his westerns, Wayne also starred in several military films.
Known for being a patriot, many might wonder whether Wayne served in the army during World War II.
His age would have made him eligible for the draft.
Here’s what you need to know about whether John Wayne served in the military or not.
Did John Wayne Serve In The Military?
No, John Wayne did not serve in the military.
In fact, some military veterans even consider Wayne to be a “draft dodger.”
This refers to an individual who used certain means to avoid serving in the war.
It’s looked upon unfavorably and often with an accusation of cowardice since so many other men were unable to do the same.
Since Wayne had a lot of pull and money on his side, some veterans see him as cowardly for using those means to get out of serving in the war.
This is especially true when comparing him to other leading men of the time who rushed to do their part in the war.
Men like Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart even defied their studios to serve.
Regardless, some historians speculate that Wayne felt guilty over not serving later in his life.
This is the reason that prompted him to make several war movies during his career.
Why Didn’t John Wayne Serve In The Military?
Despite being fit, Wayne didn’t serve in the military like so many other men similar to him.
There are several reasons Wayne might have attempted to avoid going to war.
Only he knew the real truth, but some historians speculate that it had to do with his ambitions in Hollywood.
At the age of 30, Wayne was in his prime for starring in leading roles.
He was also just getting his start in the business.
Some believe that he suspected if he left to go to war, then he wouldn’t qualify for those roles when he returned.
He’d be too old or someone else may rise in his place and take the roles that could have been his.
Avoiding the war certainly benefited his career.
With other leading men like Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable at war, many leading male roles went to Wayne instead.
He was able to reinforce his reputation in front of American audiences and make himself a star of American war propaganda films.
Initially, Wayne got out of serving in the war with a 3-A draft deferment.
This type of deferment meant that the individual was the sole earner in a family of four or more.
If that individual went to war, then it would put the family in hardship.
They’d be unable to financially support themselves.
This type of deferment came out as a response to the Great Depression that had occurred just before the war.
Many families were reliant on a single person earning money since many employers weren’t hiring anyone else.
With the removal of that person, it meant that the family would likely starve.
To avoid that, the military created the 3-A draft deferment.
It applied to Wayne in that he was supporting his family at home.
The military found it justifiable, and they authorized the deferment for him.
As the war carried on, that changed.
A need for more men in the war led the military to change Wayne’s deferment to a 1-A.
This means that the individual is fit for duty.
Had the status remained unchanged, Wayne likely would have entered the war.
However, at that point, he had entrenched himself so deeply in the American war propaganda system that the studios were able to force the military to change his status.
Wayne spent most of his time during World War II filming movies that inspired troops as well as audiences at home.
Without him, the studios argued, the quality of the war propaganda films would decrease.
The morale of the men, which was extremely important to the war effort, would dwindle and possibly even break.
The studios argued that they needed Wayne away from the war to keep the troops motivated and the audiences at home entertained.
The government decided to intervene and ended up creating a special draft deferment specifically for Wayne.
It became the 2-A draft deferment.
This meant that the individual could not serve in the war because they supported the national interest.
The government needed Wayne to keep starring in war propaganda films to keep their troops going.
Because of this special deferment, Wayne was able to avoid going to war entirely.
Did John Wayne Ever Attend USO Events In World War II?
One of the ways in which Wayne directly aided the war effort was by involving himself in the USO camp shows.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew that he’d be fighting two different wars.
There was the active war and then there was the war at home.
He needed to keep his troops engaged in the war, and he needed to ensure that everyone at home continued to support the cause.
He tasked Mary Ingraham with running the United Service Organization or the USO.
Its duty was to provide recreation for the troops on active duty and to spur support at home.
One of the most famous aspects of the USO was its camp shows.
These shows brought together famous and rising stars and had them perform for the troops.
Back at home, the troops would have to spend a good amount of money to see these stars live.
The USO provided the entertainment completely free.
Not only would the shows remind the troops of what they were fighting for back at home, but it would also help ease some of the homesickness that they experienced.
That meant making the shows as American as possible.
The USO thought that Wayne was the epitome of America.
His family had come from humble means.
They had started out as farmers, but their efforts proved fruitless.
They didn’t have too much going for them until Wayne discovered acting.
He quickly started his rise in fame for his Western films and his everyman approach to life.
In Wayne, troops were able to see themselves or see a reminder of home.
That was the hope, but not all troops reacted kindly to John Wayne’s performances.
When he wasn’t making films for the war effort, Wayne was performing twice a day for three months during his tenure with the USO.
He went above and beyond that, too, by visiting soldiers who were recovering in the hospital.
He even took the time to visit with the soldiers in the camp.
Not all the soldiers thought that Wayne should be there, though.
Some saw him as a draft dodger and that his visiting the troops was an insult to their service.
Others welcomed him and were glad of the reminder of home.
Whether Wayne felt guilty about not serving during his USO tour is up for debate.
However, he did continue to write to soldiers after he returned to the states.
John Wayne did attend USO events for three months in which he acted twice a day.
Whether he had a strong effect on his audience was dependent on how the soldiers viewed him.
Why Did John Wayne Make So Many War Movies?
Some speculate that Wayne made as many war movies as he did to compensate for not serving.
After seeing the horror of war, he felt compelled to do what he could to honor the soldiers.
That meant telling their stories in various films.
There’s no question that Wayne became a super patriot during and after the war.
That focus led to some incredible war films like Sands of Iwo Jima, and The Longest Day.
Although Wayne had never experienced war himself, his acting chops made his roles believable.
At the very least, he did what he set out to do, which was to tell the stories of the men who served.
Besides his own desire to tell stories, the studio he worked for also wanted to produce as many films as they could.
During the war, several movie studios worked alongside the government to film war propaganda films.
This was another part of the United Support Organization’s efforts to keep the American audience engaged in the war.
Since the war was taking longer than anyone had expected, the government wanted to avoid burnout.
When burnout sets in, the American people start calling for their troops to come home.
Without support at home, the troops in Europe and Asia would have had their morale broken.
It’s possible that they might have lost the war as a result.
To keep those who remained at home engaged in the war, the government instructed movie studios to create war films.
Not only did these war films need to tell the stories of the soldiers fighting across the ocean, but they needed to be stories of hope.
Americans needed to win the day.
Audiences needed to see the progress their soldiers were making.
Without it, they might have deemed the war pointless.
War films also served to keep the soldiers motivated.
By seeing acts of heroism performed by other soldiers, even if fictional, they felt inspired to do their part.
Since Wayne was one of the main leading men available to film, it was natural for his studio to select him as the primary lead for their war films.
At that time, actors weren’t represented by agencies.
Movie studios hired the actors directly.
The actor could then only make movies for that particular studio aside from a few exchanges here and there.
It’s also why many movie studios failed financially and crumbled.
When their actors weren’t as beloved as actors from other studios, then fewer people saw their movies.
Without funding from box office receipts, they were unable to produce any more movies or pay their employees.
Since Wayne’s employer was working with the government to produce war films, he had to star in those war films.
Did John Wayne Serve In The Korean War?
Several wars came after World War II in which Wayne could have served once more.
The Korean War began less than five years after the end of World War II.
While this saw the return of some World War II veterans to combat, Wayne also did not serve in this conflict.
That’s because he was too old to serve at that point.
The age range in which most soldiers are eligible for the draft is between 18 and 25 years old.
The military will pull from this pool of men first.
If they need more bodies, then they may extend that to 30.
However, it’s rare that the military will accept men older than 30 or 35.
That’s because, at that point, men are no longer in their prime.
They’re also more established in life with careers and families that depend on them.
Wayne didn’t serve in the Korean War because he was 40 years old at the time.
In terms of being fit for duty, that’s well beyond the age limit.
Despite not being able to serve, Wayne still wanted to support the war effort.
He went on to make a few Korean War films to help support the troops and morale at home.
However, one film he wanted to make that featured the Korean War didn’t make the cut.
Wayne had found a screenplay written by Andrew Geer which depicted the events of the battle for the Nevada Cities.
There were two outposts in Korea which they named after two cities in Nevada: Reno and Las Vegas.
The 1st Marine Division was responsible for manning and protecting the outposts.
However, on March 26, 1953, the Chinese forces overwhelmed the outposts.
They killed most of the soldiers but captured a good number of them as well.
The military sent several companies and regiments to the outposts to reclaim them, but they were unsuccessful.
The battle lasted for five days, and 1,015 American and South Korean soldiers died in the attempt to reclaim the outposts.
Wayne wanted to make a film based on the screenplay.
They named the movie Giveaway Hill based on the fact that the military eventually gave up on retaking the outposts.
At this time, the Pentagon played a key role in the production of war films.
They had an agreement with movie studios in which they would give surplus equipment to the studio to use.
They’d also grant them real military units to work as extras and a base on which to film.
In return, the movie studios would allow the Pentagon to review the script and essentially approve or reject it.
They ended up rejecting Wayne’s film.
The reasons they listed were numerous.
One of them was the concern they had over the morale of troops and the American public when they saw images of their troops firing on their own.
This was something that happened during the attempt to retake the outposts.
Since the Chinese had prisoners at the outposts, several of them died when their own army fired on them.
The Pentagon believed that the public will would turn against the war if they saw those images.
They also believed that the script was too violent.
Finally, they had some concerns about the treatment of a certain minority character that might feed into Communist propaganda.
They rejected the script but were willing to move forward if Wayne made changes to the script.
Wayne ultimately decided to drop the project.
John Wayne did not serve in the military, but some believe he played an important role in providing entertainment for audiences at home and across the sea.
His war films are classics and helped keep hope and morale high.
This, in turn, gave American soldiers the extra support they needed to get the job done.
Wayne would also go on to become involved in veteran affairs and supported them throughout his career.