If you guessed the one on the right, you got smarts.
John Wayne, in “Flying Leathernecks,” played an American in uniform at Guadalcanal. Don Adams was one.
Nothing against Wayne. He always felt ashamed that he had stayed out of the service, at time because his studio bosses pulled strings. He had a family to feed, but so did many men who volunteered. Yet I’d argue the movies he made, and the morale and espirit they helped instill, buoyed American civilians and soldiers and did more for the war effort than he would have accomplished peeling potatoes on KP duty.
But consider Don Adams, the goofy “Get Smart” actor. An immigrant’s son who wanted to be an artist, when World War II came he lied about his age and Joined the Marines at age 16, and fought at Guadalcanal. He was the only survivor of his platoon, and nearly died of blackwater fever.
I’m reading “With the Old Breed” right now; rightly recognized by Studs Terkel, Paul Fussell, and John Keegan as a classic. E.B. Sledge, the author, fought alongside some of the Guadalcanal veterans in later battles at Peleliu and Okinawa. There was nothing Hollywood about them. They were just American boys, from Mississippi farms and California ranches and Chicago streets. They didn’t always look like Marines do in the movies.
But they weren’t playing a role. They were doing a job. You didn’t have to look good or remember your lines. You had to look out for your buddy and remember to keep your rifle clean. Some heroes get to wear medals, but Sledge in the course of his narrative matter-of-factly describes a dozen scenes of bravery and heroism that never got rewarded because they happened out of sight of the right people. When the smoke cleared, the Marines picked up their knapsacks and got on with the war.
A salute to all the veterans.