John Wayne and President Ronald Reagan Shared a Bond for a Special Piece of Jewelry

by Josh Lanier

John Wayne and Ronald Reagan were close friends with a lot in common. They were both actors, staunch Republicans, and both were beloved public figures in the 1950s through the 1970s. But they also shared a love of a special type of bracelet.

During the Vietnam War, family members of soldiers missing in action or captured worried their loved ones were being forgotten. So, several started a campaign that featured a missing or captured soldier’s named inscribed on a bracelet. Both John Wayne and Ronald Reagan wore the bracelet that bore the name Steve Hanson. But there were thousands of others with the names of other missing soldiers.

Hanson was a second lieutenant in the Marines who flew a CH46A helicopter from 1965 until 1967 in Vietnam. That’s when Vietnamese soldiers shot him down on June 3, 1967. He was listed as missing in action until finally being declared killed in action in 1974, a history of the bracelets said. His remains were returned to the United States and were buried at Arlington National Cemetery in 1999.

John Wayne didn’t know Steve Hanson. He’d never met, spoken, or even seen the man. But Hanson’s wife sent Wayne a letter shortly after his helicopter went down. In it was a picture of Hanson in his flight suit. He had written in the corner, “Me as John Wayne,” Reagan recalled in a 1988 interview.

John Wayne started wearing the Steven Hanson bracelet after that. He wore it everywhere. You can see it in some of his films at that time. Reagan, inspired by Wayne, also started wearing the Hanson bracelet. He also wore it on camera and at public appearances.

They both wore the bracelets throughout the rest of the Vietnam War.

John Wayne Helps Get Out Vote for Ronald Reagan

In 1966, Ronald Reagan ran for California governor against incumbent Democrat Pat Brown. Reagan had given a speech at the 1964 Republican convention that had raised his profile from just an actor to a potential statesman. But getting over that hump wasn’t going to be easy. Actors becoming politicians was almost unheard of at that time.

So, he called on his friend John Wayne for help. And, of course, they made a film. It’s called The Victory Squad. And it’s their earnest attempt to get Republicans excited about Reagan and go to the polls.

“Besides voting ourselves, if each one of us will see to it that the whole Republican vote gets to the polls, we can win, Wayne says in the video. “On the last several elections, we Republicans have made a pretty good showing by doing just that. . . . The man who was one of our hardest precinct workers will show how that Republican Victory Squad, as we call it, works. He graduated from precinct work. He is now our candidate for governor. My good friend, Ronald Reagan.”

Reagan was blunt.

“In 1960, Nixon lost to Kennedy by 118,000 votes in the entire country. And there were 15 million registered Republicans who stayed home from the polls that day. The Democrats did it. They got their people out and to the polls. Well, let’s take a leaf from their book.”

Ronald Reagan beat Brown big, taking more than 57 percent of the vote.