Once in a while, I’ll receive an e-mail from a loyal encore book worm that really motivates and touches me to the core. Last week was such an occasion. Avid reader Sgt. Davis of the 1st Battallion 9th Marine Division, now deployed to Afghanistan, took a few moments from his 30-minute allotted recreational period to log online and drop me a note.
“My favorite books to read are of the wild, wild west,” Sgt. Davis said in his message. “I don’t have much time to watch a movie here—‘Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid’ is one of my favorites—but I can take a book with me no matter which post I stand at. You know good reads, and you don’t cater just to women, so which Western novels would you suggest I write home for next?”
First and foremost, Sgt. Davis, I have a FedEx box ready and waiting to go your way, filled with a few personal selections. Consider it a gift from within the tight-knit fabric we call “The Marine Corps Family.” May it show you my appreciation for not only your compliments, but for serving our country. Among the reads, I’ve included a writer I feel is very poignant in covering the American West. He is also a decorated veteran of our armed forces: the late Louis L’Amour.
Raised in the waning times of the American frontier, L’Amour was born Louis Dearborn LaMoore on March 22, 1908. The youngest of seven children, he lived in the farming community of Jamestown, North Dakota, until the age of 15. A skilled boxer, whom observed the dingy realm of hardcore fighters, opportunistic managers, formidable mobsters and high rollers across cities within the West, L’Amour later took on the role of vagabond. He hopped freight trains across the country, and eventually in the summer of 1942 enlisted into the U.S. Army. After making 1st Lt., commanding a platoon of gas tankers, which supplied planes and tankers through the war in France and Germany, he was discharged. He then returned stateside and moved to Los Angeles to begin his writing career. It is there he gave birth to arguably the greatest best-selling Western novel of all time, “Hondo.”
“Hondo” tells the dramatic and heroic (yet methodic) love story of quick-gun American Army dispatch rider, Hondo Lane, as he falls for pioneer woman Angie Lowe, who happens to be raising her son alone on a secluded Arizona farmstead. Between Hondo and Angie is an Apache warrior, Vittoro, whose people are preparing to wage war against the white man.
Set in the Wild West of the 1800s, “Hondo” truly captures the story of a man who lives by his own code of integrity, rectitude, and depicts what it means to live and die with righteousness. Likewise, “Hondo” amplifies great moralistic fiction. In short, it’s perfect for those now serving honorably within the wild, wild deserts of the Middle East.
Paul Odell, a friend of the L’Amour estate, oversees the author’s website, www.louislamour.com. Odell explains the appeal of the author quite emphatically.
“I was a science fiction fan, but Louis’ books struck a chord with me because of his vivid detail in describing the environments, his first-hand knowledge of Western lore and the sense of honor and valor his characters portray. Over half a million copies of Louis L’Amour’s hero-laden novels have found their way into the hands of military recruits—a gift from the author’s family and his longtime publisher, Bantam Dell, to the armed services.”
Odell says it’s the estate’s “thank you” for all the military does for our country. L’Amour’s widow, Kathy L’Amour, began planning the donation a year before September 11, 2001. There are 300 million copies and counting of her husband’s books in print, ensuring his continued legacy. “It will educate and inform readers around the world,” Kathy says.
Despite L’Amour’s honest depiction of a ruthless frontier, many confidently feel he stays within respectful confines when portraying the Apache tribe. Seemingly, he validates the American Western as a distinct genre, unique and beautiful all on its own. Translated into over 15 foreign languages, “Hondo” was adapted for the big screen in 1953 and starred John Wayne, Geraldine Page and Ward Bond.
By the time of L’Amour’s death in 1988, he had sold over 200 million novels. Among his devout readers, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan rank the list. Perhaps most impressively, “Hondo” is quoted by John Wayne to be “the best novel I’ve ever read.” And, taking a cue from another infamous Western, “The Shootist,” it’s not wise to dispute The Duke.