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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Honoring a hero

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Honoring a hero

Like the Duke as Rooster Cogburn, Nate easily pretends he's the hero of the western. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
Like the Duke as Rooster Cogburn, Nate easily pretends he's the hero of the western. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By LISA BRITTON

Of the Baker City Herald

When he was 4, Nate Illingsworth tried to change his name.

His preferred moniker, he told everyone, was "John Wayne Duke Texas Ranger."

"And he would not let you shorten it. That lasted a good year, year and a half," says his dad, Ray Illingsworth II.

Nate, 6, is still all cowboy.

He greets you at the door of his Haines home with a black cowboy hat snug on his head, a red bandanna cinched at his neck and a golden star engraved with "Texas Rangers" pinned to the chest of his Western shirt.

His image nearly mirrors the framed poster that usually hangs in his bedroom, a color scene of John Wayne sauntering away from the sheriff's office, a gun clutched in a hand and metal star glinting in the afternoon sun.

Nate knows just a little about the old West. "His aunt and uncle have baby-sat him since he was a newborn. They didn't have cartoons, they had John Wayne movies," Ray says. "His favorite movie when he was 2 was ‘McLintock.' We watched it every day, sometimes four or five times. He's always been into horses and cowboys."

And not just any old cowboy either.

Nate's hero was John Wayne.

His movie collection of 10 videos is only a small slice of Wayne's Hollywood career (he starred in more than 200 movies in 46 years).

Nate shifts through movies titled "North to Alaska," "The Undefeated" and a collector series of five: "Texas Terror," "The Trail Beyond," "Randy Rides Alone," "The Star Packer," and "John Wayne: American Hero of the Movies."

"My wife (Yvonne) was never an old western fan, so it took her some time to get used to it," Ray says.

He figures his son picked a pretty good hero.

"A lot better than some that we have today," he says. "I think it helped him learn the differences between right and wrong and to stand up for what you think is right."

When Nate started school last year his interests diversified to Indiana Jones, Steven Seagal and G.I. Joe.

"We are glad he's branching out," Ray says with smile.

The modern heroes, Nate says, have much cooler weapons.

"They have missile launchers," Nate says, holding up a plastic G.I. Joe action figure. "John Wayne would never dream of those."

But the Duke hasn't totally disappeared from this first-grader's life.

The John Wayne Commemorative Stamp makes a debut on Friday, and to celebrate its release the Baker City Post Office at 1550 Dewey Ave. is going western with saddles, hay bales, John Wayne posters and a continuous run of the actor's movies.

This stamp is the latest in the "Legends of Hollywood" series released by the U.S. Postal Service. Previous stamps have featured Audrey Hepburn, Elvis, James Dean and Cary Grant.

"To have a commemorative stamp, you have to be dead for 10 years," said Kathy Spence, retail sales clerk at the Baker City post office.

Nate is lending his collection to help decorate the post office.

Only on a temporary basis, of course.

"When's Kathy (Spence) going to come get my most valuable possessions?" he asks his dad. "But you're not taking my license or coin."

He disappears into his room and emerges clutching a golden coin carved with the Duke's real name — Marion Michael Morrison — and a plastic-encased driver's license featuring John Wayne's mug.

"They can't have that — he couldn't drive without that," Ray smiles.

Nate tucks the laminated license back in his wallet.

There's no worries for this fake I.D.

Wayne's height is listed at 6 feet, 3 inches.

Nate stands at about four feet — and that's counting his cowboy boots.

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