By Mike Chapman
It’s been 31 years since his departure, but still he strides across the national landscape in a fashion matched by few cultural figures in American history. For decades, in poll after poll, his status as one of the most beloved movie stars and icons of all time has remained unchanged, at or near the very top of every list.
He was the inspiration for millions of servicemen during various wars. For many Americans, the mere mention of his name stirs visions of the supreme patriot. In 1979, he received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest tribute that can be given to a private citizen by the United States government.
And today, he still has a huge presence in Iowa, some 103 years after his birth in a small town in the heart of the Midwest. He’s John Wayne, and there’s never really been another character quite like him. Some have made the case that he is the most popular film star of all time; others say he is the most popular Iowa native ever.
He has won so many awards and honors that it is hard to keep track. The major airport in Orange County, California, has been renamed John Wayne Airport, with a nine-foot statue of him at the entrance; there is a John Wayne Elementary School in Brooklyn, New York; a park in the state of Washington has a 100-mile stretch called the “John Wayne Pioneer Trail,” and a section of Arizona Highway 347 is dedicated to his memory, as is a cancer clinic at UCLA.
Whatever his place in American history, one fact remains secure: He was born in Iowa and his memory is perpetuated with loving care in that birthplace of Winterset, in Madison County.