John Wayne! (1969) — As Promised

Hemphill Sign

Hemphill Sign

Some people in the U.S. Navy were not particularly happy with any group that wanted to treat the Pueblo crewmembers as heroes.

In fact, they were in a complete snit when we suggested that we wanted to throw a big party for the entire crew. Not being able to stop us from doing anything we wanted in a free society, the officials in charge of the Pueblo Desk at Balboa Hospital did the next best thing. They said they could only give us 24 hours notice when the crew members would be permitted to leave the hospital compound – and that the crewmembers’ condition was such as to make it necessary that I promise not to provide them any alcohol.
I had little choice but to agree to the conditions.

Someone gave us the phone number of John Wayne’s boat, the Wild Goose. John Wayne had made public statements favorable to Pete and the Pueblo crew, and he had called people in our organization. Jean’s (my Wife) fingers actually shook when she dialed the number, and though he was not there, she left a message. She was in an absolute swoon by the time he called back. (Jean now has Alzheimer’s and does not remember it.)

She explained the situation – we were going to have a party for the Pueblo crew and we wanted him to attend as the special guest.

”The Duke” was fantastic. He said he was at our disposal, and would be happy to do anything we wanted.

That is when Jean gave him the bad news: We could not tell him the date of the party because the hospital was playing games.

He said that it was not a problem. We were simply to call the number he would give us and leave a message indicating what time the party would commence. Then we were to arrive at San Diego International Airport half an hour before that time and meet his helicopter. (Jean didn’t wash her telephone hand for a week!)

He promised he would be there. And he was! His wife, Pia, was with him.

We then called Johnny Grant in Hollywood. He said that not only would he be there with his USO group, but that he would call some of his friends including Bob Crosby and Pat Boone.

Then we went to the managers of the huge nightclub at Le Baron Hotel in San Diego and asked them if they would donate their hall – and do it on 24-hour notice. Surprisingly, they immediately agreed. We went to an orchestra and asked them if they would donate their services under these strange circumstances, and they agreed.

We would show the bastards. We still had to avoid liquor, because I had agreed that I would not buy any.

When I told Pete he immediately smiled.

”What was the agreement you made? Did you say that you would not buy any liquor for the party?”

”That is what I said, Pete. I had to agree in order to get the party.”

He reached into the blue nuclear submarine jump-suit and pulled out a wad of cash.

”OK. You won’t purchase any Champagne, and you won’t pay for it. I’ll pay for it, and you get someone else to purchase it.”

Pete was not about to go to a party without alcohol, and he wouldn’t make his crew go dry either.

Several weeks later the Hospital called and said that the party could be the next evening.

We made only a very few phone calls and everyone who had promised came through without fail. In spades.

Not only did Bob Crosby and Pat Boone come down, but on just a few hours notice they arranged for more than twenty PSA Stewardesses to come with them. (Several of the crewmembers missed the bus back to the hospital. There may have been, and indeed there was, a connection.)

John Wayne’s helicopter was right on time, as advertised. He brought his lovely wife, Pia.

The Duke was the real star of the show even though he shared the spotlight with Pat Boone and Bob Crosby. There were some ego problems in the billing.

The Duke, Crosby, and Boone handed every crewmember a plaque and each shook each man’s hand. The handshake that John Wayne gave each of them made their day. The Duke held a bumper sticker over his head that said “Hemphill For President” – and that made my day. (Photo attached of Rose holding the bumpersticker at the party.)

The party went along beautifully.

It was a night none of us would ever forget. Pete and his crew had a blast – even if it was not how they would have preferred to have their liberty constrained by such tame activities – except, of course, for those who ended up with a beautiful PSA stew.

John Wayne enjoyed the evening immensely. He was very happy before we poured him aboard the private helicopter for his flight back.

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