Honoring a hero



Of the Baker City Herald

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

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

andquot;And he would not let you shorten it. That lasted a good year, year and a half,andquot; 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 andquot;Texas Rangersandquot; 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. andquot;His aunt and uncle have baby-sat him since he was a newborn. They didn't have cartoons, they had John Wayne movies,andquot; Ray says. andquot;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.andquot;

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 andquot;North to Alaska,andquot; andquot;The Undefeatedandquot; and a collector series of five: andquot;Texas Terror,andquot; andquot;The Trail Beyond,andquot; andquot;Randy Rides Alone,andquot; andquot;The Star Packer,andquot; and andquot;John Wayne: American Hero of the Movies.andquot;

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

He figures his son picked a pretty good hero.

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

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

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

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

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

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 andquot;Legends of Hollywoodandquot; series released by the U.S. Postal Service. Previous stamps have featured Audrey Hepburn, Elvis, James Dean and Cary Grant.

andquot;To have a commemorative stamp, you have to be dead for 10 years,andquot; 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.

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

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.

andquot;They can't have that he couldn't drive without that,andquot; 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.

The Baker City Herald
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