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“Flying Leathernecks” released in 1951
By: Gerald F. Merna, 1stLt USMC (Ret.)
In your April 15th Newsletter both you and Cpl Itchmo reminisced about the stories of John Wayne and several of his movies, particularly True Grit (where you got the "moniker" that has stood you in good stead all these years), Sands of Iwo Jima and Flying Leathernecks. I'm sure you two were among the many that were so "influenced" by the John Wayne Marine portrayals that became the "driving force" fulfilling your desires to become United States Marines.
Well I was already a Marine when Flying Leathernecks made its debut in 1951, and your remembrances sent me digging through some old photos I knew I had about that movie.
Together with my brother Jim I was recalled to active duty at the outbreak of the Korean War in August 1950, less than 4 months after finishing my first enlistment from 1947-1950. After advanced combat training at Camp Lejeune, from December 1950 until I left for Korea in May 1952, I was assigned Recruiting Duty in New York and New Jersey (under the command of then WWII Medal of Honor Recipient and future Commandant LtCol. Louis H. Wilson) at various locations, including the "booth" in Times Square, Hackensack and Paterson New Jersey. I finished up that recruiting tour in the two man Marine Corps Recruiting Sub-Station (MCRSS) Rockland County, NY, with our office in the Village of Nyack Town Hall.
As the enclosed photos will show, when Flying Leathernecks was released in September 1951 we two Rockland County Recruiters set up a display in the Rockland Theatre in Nyack, New York. Picture 1 shows then NCOinC TSgt Frank Gross (WWII Veteran), and me, then a SSgt, in front of our display. Note the black "Marine Recruiter" armbands we wore in those days; and Recruiters didn't get a "ribbon" for those tours such as are authorized today. (Makes me wonder if I would have earned a "star" on my ribbon since I had a subsequent 4-year tour of Recruiting Duty in KY '56-'60)? Fortunately I wrote names on the backs of the pictures, so Picture 2 is of then Theatre Manager Leo Ardavny showing TSgt Gross brochures about the Flying Leathernecks movie (or maybe Ardavny was reviewing an enlistment contract Frank was showing him)? Pictures 3 and 4 are of our recruiting display that complemented the movie.
Be assured that we successfully enlisted a few other Sgt.Grit's and Cpl Itchmo's as a result of that movie. So John Wayne was indeed good for our Corps, whether he wore the uniform or not.
Gerald F. Merna
1stLt USMC (Ret.)
Korea ('52-53) 1stMarDiv
Vietnam ('66-67) 3rdMarDiv