John Wayne was more than an actor and Hollywood icon. He was an outspoken American patriot. Duke loved the United States from coast to coast. Throughout his career, he only wanted to make movies that would enrich American culture. He wanted his work to reflect positively on the land that he loved.
John Wayne didn’t just show his love for his country in his words and film choices, though. His patriotism even went beyond his day-to-day actions. In 1973, Duke pressed an album of patriotic poetry called America, Why I Love Her. John Mitchum wrote the poetry and Wayne read it.
According to an article in the September 27, 2001, Des Moines Register, the idea for the album came about on the set of the 1970 movie Chisum. John Wayne, John Mitchum, and Forrest Tucker worked together on that film.
Mitchum read the poem, “Why Are You Marching, Son?” to Tucker. The poem touched Tucker deeply. So, he told Mitchum that he had to read it for John Wayne. So, he did. The poem had a similar effect on Duke. In fact, the poem moved him to tears. “I’ve never recorded anything in my life,” Wayne told him, “But, I’m going to record an album of your poetry.” America, Why I Love Her hit shelves on March 1, 1973.
John Wayne On “Taps”
The entire album is a love letter to the United States. However, the final track on the record honors the fallen troops. That track is “Taps,” named for the song played at military funerals. It isn’t just a new recording of that song, though. Instead, it is a poetic story about how the song came to be. You can listen to it below.
The poem expertly juxtaposes the beauty of summertime in Virginia with the horrors of war. John Wayne’s iconic voice lends some extra weight to the words. It starts by talking about the dogwoods, laurels, and fruit trees in bloom Then, it talks about how all of that natural beauty was shaken by cannon fire and “the crackling of a legion of rifles.”
After that, it gets a little deeper. John Wayne speaks of the seven thousand men who fell, either dead or wounded, during a week-long battle. It’s a reminder of how bloody the Civil War could be. At the same time, it shows how many lives were lost in such a short time as Americans killed each other.
Then, John Wayne speaks on the original composer of “Taps.” He says,
“Now, a new sound drifted in the soft evening sky. / For Colonel Dan Butterfield, a courageous and able Soldier, / Was also a man of music. / To honor his fallen comrades, he had composed a simple
and heartrending melody. / On July second, in the year 1862, / Its strains floated over the graves that scarred the / Dark Virginia earth.”
He goes on to say that Butterfield composed the song over 100 years ago. However, the somber tune remains a mainstay of military life.