John Wayne was is an American icon. It has been over forty years since he passed away, yet his influence remains. He has been the symbol of masculinity for generations. Wayne embodied the roles he played. Chief among them were the soldier and the cowboy. To this day, his name is synonymous with tenacity and toughness.
John Wayne set the example for what it means to be a man through his roles on the silver screen. Furthermore, he symbolized the American hero. In short, he was so much more than an actor. This abiding influence is the reason he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter.
John Wayne Receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom
John Wayne was given two of the highest awards that an American civilian can receive. The month after his passing Congress awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal. Then, a year after his death, in 1980 President Jimmy Carter posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest honor a civilian can receive in America. The Congressional Gold Medal is a close second. John Wayne more than earned both of them. His influence on American culture is undeniable. In fact, as recently as 2019, he was ranked among America’s top-10 movie stars. Now, that is staying power.
An American Icon
He did not volunteer to fight in WWII. Instead, he stayed home and bolstered the morale of Americans. He embodied the fighting spirit of America in his roles. He gave Americans a hero to look up to. Some would say that he was the soul of America in a time when the country needed it the most.
Behind the scenes, John Wayne was a staunch conservative. This didn’t go over well even during his lifetime. However, he never changed his views to suit what was popular. Much like the men he portrayed on film, he stuck to his guns. He knew what he believed and would not change for anyone.
To him, it was less about politics and more about what was right and wrong. At the same time, he worked hard for everything he had. He showed as much true grit in his daily life as any character he played.
These things combined with his incredible filmography made him an American icon.
A Brief History of the Presidential Medal of Freedom
The Presidential Medal of Freedom was originally called the Medal of Freedom. President Truman awarded the medal to those who served notably in WWII, according to History. JFK reintroduced the medal in its modern form in 1963. He broadened the scope of the award to honor those who served the country in a variety of ways.
Currently, an American citizen can receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom for “meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors,” according to the National Archives.
To date, over 500 notable Americans have been awarded the medal.