Hollywood legend John Wayne never served in World War II, partially due to the machinations of Republic Pictures. He tried, though. He put in an application to work with the Office of Strategic Services. Although he was accepted, the letter notifying him so was sent to his estranged wife and never reached him. According to one biography, Wayne’s failure to serve in one of history’s most important wars stung him for the rest of his life.
Wayne did, however, visit troops during World War II and The Vietnam War. One such visit was in 1966 to the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. He wasn’t simply there fulfilling an obligation, either. In addition to being a legendary figure in war movies and westerns, John Wayne was known for being a staunch anti-communist, so much so that Josef Stalin ordered his assassination.
John Wayne starred in many war movies, like Warner Brothers’ ‘Operation Pacific,’ but missed World War II, much to his chagrin.
Wayne’s visit came after elements of the 101st Airborne had taken part in Operation Hawthorne with elements of the 1st Cavalry Division. The troops’ objective was to relieve the Army of the Republic of Vietnam’s 42nd Regiment, which had been under siege by North Vietnamese Army forces.
During that operation, Capt. Bill Carpenter, who commanded a company of the 101st that was nearly overrun, called in a napalm strike on his own position. He survived and earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions. The Air Force eventually sent B-52s to carpet bomb the suspected North Vietnamese positions.
U.S. Army troops assault a North Vietnamese position during Operation Hawthorne.
The Screaming Eagles suffered 48 dead and 239 wounded during the three-week operation. The South Vietnamese unit was rescued after suffering the loss of 10 and another 42 wounded. The Americans and South Vietnamese, though, killed at least 688 of the enemy and captured another 21.