John Wayne, Draft Dodger? Avoiding Serving in World War II

Captain Tyrone Power, USMC

Captain Tyrone Power, USMC

Hollywood, like most of America, overwhelmingly supported our effort to defeat Naziism in World War II. The list of top show business stars who gave up their screen career to serve in the military is impressive and extensive. Some, like Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Tyrone Power,  Charles Durning. and Eddie Albert, won medals for heroism. (Click this link for a more complete list, compiled by the awesome Annemarie of

Many younger men whose acting careers had not yet started, including Steve McQueen, James Garner, Jack Lemmon and Johnny Carson, served with honor, too. Several women who would be important in show business did their bit as well. Teenage Betty White drove a truck on the West Coast delivering supplies, Julia Child served in the American spy service and Audrey Hepburn, as a child under Nazi occupation, was a courier for the French resistance.

It was a point of honor for Americans to serve in the military. Less than 4 percent of men who were drafted ducked the draft. In Hollywood, two prominent stars who were healthy enough and of the right age to serve actively avoided service. One was cowboy hero Roy Rogers. The other was John Wayne.

John Wayne, Draft Dodger?

John Wayne was cheating on his wife with several women, most notably the woman who would later become his second wife. His marriage was on the rocks and his career was very important to him. John Wayne was younger than Henry Fonda or Clark Gable, and the same age as Jimmy Stewart and Gene Autry – all of whom served in active duty. (It should be noted that these men, like Wayne, also had children.) It was a team effort to keep him out of the war. John Wayne romantic comedy made during World War II.His movie studio, Republic Pictures, worked ceaselessly with John Wayne to do everything possible to keep this conservative super patriot from having to serve his country during the Second World War. When the draft board overturned one of his many deferments and classified him as 1-A, Wayne and the studio immediately appealed. He was reclassified several times. He did nothing illegal. But his actions are completely inconsistent with the image of patriotism and courage he played out in the pretend world of the movies.

To begin with, there was absolutely nothing that prevented John Wayne from simply signing up for duty as so many Hollywood stars did. He did not need to wait to be drafted. He chose not to enlist. The evidence seems to be that he was more worried about his film career and his affair with a comely Mexican woman than with active duty. (According to another author, it was actually Wayne’s extramarital affair with John Wayne And Marlene DietrichMarlene Dietrich that prevented him from signing up initially.) He did make 13 movies during the war.

He told John Ford’s biographer/grandson:

“I didn’t feel I could go in as a private, I felt I could do more good going around on tours and things…I was America [to the young guys] in the front lines…they had taken their sweethearts to that Saturday matinee and held hands over a Wayne Western. So I wore a big hat and I thought it was better.” 

John Wayne did do publicity tours. He had to learn to deal with being booed by active duty military men and he even got into a couple of fistfights with servicemen who were angry about him not serving! Meanwhile, Wayne continued receiving deferments that prevented him from going on active duty. He grew extremely rich and play acted being a soldier in films while other men did the real fighting. His extreme conservatism seems to have been a reaction to the shame he felt about actively avoiding service. His third wife, a beautiful woman from Peru, said Wayne became a “super-patriot for the rest of his life trying to atone for staying at home” and not serving in the war effort.

John Wayne, Draft Dodger?

John Wayne In The Movies Without splitting hairs, it would be wrong to refer to Wayne as a draft dodger.  Although he and his studio did everything possible to keep him from active duty in the military, there is nothing to indicate that he would have eventually fled the country or gone to jail rather than serve. But those who extol John Wayne’s often stated patriotism and decry the liberalism of people like Henry Fonda, George McGovern, and Paul Newman (WWII vets) might want to consider why John Wayne actively avoided serving in World War II.

10 thoughts on “John Wayne, Draft Dodger? Avoiding Serving in World War II

  1. Good Afternoon Barry: I did not attend, but was informed you gave a wonderful presentation to The Lunch Bunch at First Pres. Libertyville yesterday. Thank you. In regard to Mr. Morrison, my recollection is that he was a scholarship football player for USC/UCLA in the 1920’s/1930’s. My further recollection is that his football career ended due to a knee injury. I do not know if Mr. Morrison’s knee injury was a determining factor in any medical or other deferment related to military service. I would be interested to know if your research (past or future) confirms or denies this. Thank you. Kind regards, Tom Bartlett-Svehla

      • I do NOT understand why John Wayne lovers don’t at least check into what the coward son-of-a-bitch did during WWII out of their own curiosity. That way they could find out for themselves the truth about the lilly- livered “tough guy” !! Same thing with sissy Roy Rogers!!

  2. If John Wayne actually resisted being drafted then it shows one thing about the man and that is, that he wasn’t stupid. Too bad the German men of WW2 did not resist conscription. But they were to busy being patriots in their own country and this leads to an ironic truth and that is that patriots actually cause war and loss of freedom.

  3. My whole life John Wayne was my hero. Now reading this and a few other stories relating to this shamefull behavior has left me somewhat gutted. I’m 55 years old and served as a Royal Australian Navy diver in the eighties. During the Falkland war in 82 we were on standby to come in and help the Royal Navy. Apart from one or two on board the Guided Missile Destroyer HMAS PERTH DDG38, who didn’t want to go, we were very disappointed when (The USN not wating to supply us with 5 inch shells because they didn’t want any drama with south America) we were stood down. Shame on Wayne! No longer my hero!

    • Tim,

      Wayne the man and Wayne the actor are clearly two different people! I have no problem with people enjoying the artistry of people who were themselves less than honorable. I know folks who won’t watch movies starring John Wayne, Jane Fonda, O. J. Simpson or directed by Roman Polanski or Woody Allen.I know people who won’t listen to music produced by Phi Spector. Everyone has to decide what they are comfortable with. I try to judge the art on its own merits.


  4. John Wayne was an egotistical, selfish coward. Plain and simple. He had the money and connections to keep him out of WWII. He used them. Strangle ironic that a man that millions worshiped (still do), due to his manly image, would choose such a direction. His excuse that he could do more good by being a spokesperson was, of course, pure bull turkey. Jimmy Stewart and a host of others showed their true colors. So did Wayne, shamefully.

    • Silver,

      Jimmy Stewart is just the valiant tip of the iceberg! MANY of Hollywood’s A-List actors put their careers and egos on hold to serve our nation. Wayne, Roy Rogers and Frank Sinatra are conspicuous by their absence, however valid their excuses may have been.


  5. Sir,

    I came across this post on Wayne’s declining to actively serve during WW2. I have to say, it’s right on the mark. Author and Classicist Gary Wills, in his 1997 book on John Wayne covered this chapter of Wayne’s life pretty well. Wills makes the same insights as you, although he puts the main focus not on Marlene Dietrich but on the fact that he wanted very much to become an Alist star. Wayne started his affair before American entry into the war, and it was he who dropped her to move on to another woman. What he did learn from her, however, was to put his career above all else (which included serving in the war).

    Wills pretty much demolishes the idea that the films that Wayne’s films made during the war were significant contributors to the war effort.
    This is an important point, because it shows that Wayne’s work was little more than average ordinary run of the mill standard films, and he wasn’t in the Alist major box office productions at the time.

    Also according to Wills, people seem to forget that Stagecoach didn’t make Wayne a star. It did make him a name actor who could occasionally be loaned out by Republic (his home studio at the time) to major studios to play supporting roles in films that on the whole didn’t make much money and aren’t recalled today except by the most ardent Wayne fans.

    But I do think that Wills hit it on the head: Wayne avoided serving his country because he put his career first. Even after the war ended, Wayne still wasn’t a major star and wouldn’t become one until ca.1948-49 when films such as the Sands of Iwo Jima helped to put him on the Alist as well as cement in the public’s mind the image of Wayne as the all-American Super Patriot and defender of the Free World. I would recommend Garry Wills’s book on Wayne for this and other aspects of the actor’s career.

    It certainly says something that Hollywood director John Ford put his career on hold to serve as photographic unit director of some of the US’s major battles, including their participation at Normandy, Midway, etc. Also, the American CIA was formed from the Wartime OSS, a unit that Ford helped create (along with others). For these and other reasons, Ford, at least according to Wills, never forgave Wayne for his perceived dodging the war at a time when most able bodied Americans fought for their country.

    Really quite amazing really, when one thinks about it just how many actors and even filmmakers from Hollywood served their country in the war during this period.

    Except of course, for John Wayne.

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