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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Reichley: The man who helped save Marine Corp

  • November is the month the U.S. Marine Corps was created, in a tavern way back in 1775.
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  • November is the month the U.S. Marine Corps was created, in a tavern way back in 1775. Despite its stellar victories against fanatical Japanese troops in WW II, after the war there was a serious proposal to disband the proud Corps.
    An email several months ago was titled "How (blank) Saved the Marines." The blank was the name of the man, born Marion Morrison on May 26, 1907, in Winterset, Iowa, singlehandedly saved the Corps from being disbanded.
    The name is not familiar to you? His birthplace is now a museum, and one entry in the guest book is Ronald Reagan, address 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, DC. So who was this Morrison, who would be 105 if still alive, and what did he do to save the Corps? Answers coming soon.
    Following WW II President Truman created the Doolittle Board, headed by hero Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, to recommend how to demobilize servicemen, slash military spending, and otherwise prepare the military for postwar duties.
    One major recommendation was the disestablishment of the Marine Corps. But some alert Marine Corps veterans with Hollywood connections felt otherwise, and thought that if a blockbuster movie could be made around the most famous wartime photograph ever made, the one of the flag raising atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima, the Corps could be saved.
    A "legendary director", Allan Dwan, agreed to begin a script. The title was tentatively to be "The Sands of Iwo Jima," and only one man was considered for the lead role. That was movie star Marion Morrison. Only when he went to Hollywood to be in movies years before, he changed his name to John Wayne. Bet that one rings a bell.
    When Wayne was approached to play the part of Sgt. John Stryker, he surprisingly turned it down because he didn't like the script, and wasn't enamored with the character of Stryker.
    But Marines have never given up easily. The veterans backing the movie appealed to Gen. Clifton Cates, commandant of the Marine Corps, who agreed that Wayne must play the part.
    Cates flew to Hollywood and met with Wayne to personally request he play the part. If Marines are tough to argue with, the Marine Corps commandant must head the list. When Cates explained that the very existence of the Corps might well depend on the public's acceptance of this movie, Wayne changed his mind and promised the commandant he would do everything in his power to cause the movie to be a success.
    The movie was released in 1949 and a pre-teen living in Birmingham, Ala., thought it was a hit. That youth was me, and I haven't changed my mind in the 63 years since. Other moviegoers thought so too, and it became a blockbuster hit with millions of fans packing theaters across this great land.
    Page 2 of 2 - Wayne was nominated for a best actor Oscar, establishing him as Hollywood's number one star, although he didn't win the Oscar. The Doolittle Board quietly folded its tent, and no politician on Capitol Hill ever again said a word about disbanding the Marine Corps.
    The email ended with this advice: Don't ever trust a man who doesn't like John Wayne. A man's opinion of John Wayne is a good rule of thumb test of his character and moral values.
    The last few sentences were a comparison of liberals to conservatives, but since this is about the Marine Corps and not politics, I'll defer those comments.
    Wayne's most famous quote from the movie is the substance of posters even today. It is a quote from Sgt. Stryker: "Life is tough, but it's tougher if you're stupid."
    I've got the movie that "saved the Marine Corps" on DVD and VCR, and now might just be a good time to perhaps watch both versions. Semper Fi, all you Gyreens out there.
    John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.
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