Yes, I'd heard that too -- although wondered if it might have been written at West Point. Guess not.
I assumed the "Stopped into a church I passed along the way" and "got down on my knees and I pretend to pray" was a thinly veiled reference to mandatory chapel.
However, I wondered about the line "you know the preacher liked the cold." I always assumed it was, "you know the preacher, like the corps, he knows I'm gonna stay" and referred either to the Marine Corps or the Corps of Cadets. Guess not. Again.
In the late '20s, John Wayne applied to the Academy and received a first alternate nomination. Unfortunately, the principal accepted. The following year, he was offered a nomination but declined because he had already completed a year of varsity football at USC.
In 1929, John Ford directed the movie Salute which was about two brothers, one the star football player from Army, and the other, his little brother, who played for Navy. Ford enlisted the entire USC football team as actors. John Wayne, in his first acting role, played the part of a midshipmen on the Navy football team.
Very cool USNA96. One record shows he didn't make it through Plebe year. Another shows he was there almost 2.5 years. One story that it was about USNA, the next that it was written later. Ahhh, the folk lore of the famous. Gotta love that song though.
You know, I've gotta say this does make a little "sense." I recall one of those interviews where he was doing his mea culpas about his failures as a person and father as he and his dd were embracing sobriety. I confess to thinking this guy really had alot of substance, beyond abuse. And I confess to liking the Mamas & Dads in my own wasted youth.