Die-hard fans of The Duke may be familiar with his trademark brass bracelet. But the story of how John Wayne came into possession of this treasure later in life is a far more rare – and fascinating – tale.
If you see a photo of John Wayne from his later years, you’ll see a simple, golden brass bracelet on his right wrist. Wayne wore the accent wherever he went. Whether at the Oscars or filming ‘The Green Berets’ for its 1968 release, The Duke would not be parted from its sheen.
This Vietnam War-era film is, too, integral to how Wayne came across the bracelet. At the time, the Western icon wanted to make a film about the much-maligned war simply because Hollywood was completely uninterested in doing so. John Wayne changed all of that himself with ‘The Green Berets’. Within, he produced what would become the only major film during the Vietnam-era in support of the war.
Whether that was a move history will remember kindly or not, ‘Berets’ would absolutely change Wayne’s life. Firstly, it was one of only two films The Duke directed over his entire career, alongside his classic ‘The Alamo’ in 1960. Wayne would also star in the picture as Col. Mike Kirby, as well.
John Wayne: Honorary Member of the Montagnard People
While filming in the summer of 1967, John Wayne got to know the indigenous Montagnard people of Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Also known as the Degar, the native group became legendary for their fierce fight against communism. Sharing this in common, Wayne became an honorary member of their peoples.
To signify this, the Montagnard gifted Wayne the very brass bracelet he would wear for the remainder of his life. The Duke wore this gift immediately as Kirby in ‘The Green Berets’. He would then wear it for every subsequent film for the remainder of his life.
In addition, Wayne would wear the bracelet when finally winning his first Oscar for “Best Actor” in ‘True Grit’ shortly after in 1970.
Fascinatingly, Modern Forces Living History Group cites that quite a few American soldiers came home from Vietnam with similar bracelets. Known to history as the “Montagnard bracelets,” the jewelry was meant to signify inclusion with their peoples. In addition, it holds deep meanings of friendship, and above all: respect.
This clearly meant the world to John Wayne. Hollywood legend says the icon rests with it, wearing it in his grave for all eternity. Fashion trade BAMFStyle cites this, noting that “not only did Duke don the bracelet on his wrist until the day he passed, it’s said he lays with it to this day.”