I was in the middle of shares about our battle with a gypsy moth caterpillar invasion. It’s awful! And, I’m still filled with welts and bites from a confrontation with the caterpillars two days ago. What to do??
Then, I noticed a message from my friend John Wayne Hawthorne. A reminder that the Duke, John Wayne, passed into legend 37 years ago yesterday.
My pal, “JW”, first consoled me about my battles with the caterpillars and warned me to be careful. I was grateful for the sympathy and support because battling caterpillars doesn’t seem very heroic. Then we talked about our hero. The conversation allowed me to mentally time travel back to 1974 when I met Duke Wayne. I’ve told the story a zillion times but it’s nice to retell on this day of the bugs invasion.
John Wayne was here for a visit to Harvard. It was still a time of unrest about the Vietnam War. Duke was unpopular with the liberal Cambridge crowd because of his hawk stance on Vietnam. Wayne and his entourage were pelted with snowballs as he approached Harvard Square. It was pandemonium.
I called in some chits and managed to get Duke to meet me and my crew inside a small theater.
Lights were turned on to brighten the empty stage. I eyed Duke at one end of the stage and mumbled nervously to my cameraman. Jim, my “shooter”, whispered for me to stop acting like a wimp and just walk to center stage. I walked towards my mark and noticed Duke in that familiar rolling gait ambling towards me. He waved and smiled.
“Garry”, he said loudly, “Good to see ya, again”.
I gulped and heard myself say, “Good to see you again, Duke”.
The rest was surreal. The interview went well and wound up with the obligatory cutaway and setup shots. Duke waved as he walked away saying, “Great seeing you, again, Garry”. I swallowed hard, then waved. I recall mentioning to Duke that I’d enlisted in the Marine Corps back in 1959. He seemed impressed. Maybe that got me some points. I’m not sure.
I’d see Wayne later again at a mass interview and he singled me out as a Gyrene, offering a wave and a salute. I savored that moment.
If Duke were around today, maybe he would round-up Ben Johnson, Harry Carey, Jr, Ward Bond and some of the other fellas and we’d run these damn gypsy moth caterpillars out of town. Hell, maybe even Liberty Valance might throw in with us.
We wouldn’t burn any daylight with these critters.
No sir, sure as the turnin’ of the earth.