March 22, 1944 – American movie star Jimmy Stewart flies his 12th combat mission, leading the 2nd Bomb Wing in an attack on Berlin. Jimmy Stewart is one of my all-time favorite Hollywood stars. When I watch his films, I think I know him as if he’s my neighbor. That he served in the war does not surprise me. I would expect no less from this true American icon.
James Maitland “Jimmy” Stewart (May 20, 1908 – July 2, 1997) was an American film and stage actor, known for his distinctive drawl voice and down-to-earth persona. Stewart was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one in competition and receiving one Lifetime Achievement award. Stewart was named the third greatest male screen legend in cinema history by the American Film Institute. He was a major Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract star.
Jimmy Stewart had a noted military career. He was a World War II and Vietnam War veteran, who rose to the rank of Brigadier General in the United States Air Force Reserve. Jimmy comes from military roots. His grandfather fought in the American Civil War and his father served in both the Spanish-American War and World War I.With an early interest in flying, Stewart earned his private pilot certificate in 1935 and commercial pilot certificate in 1938. Well before the United States entry into World War II, he had accumulated over 400 hours flying which included flights across the country to visit his family in Pennsylvania.
James Stewart’s performance in Frank Capra’s MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939) helped cement his image as the decent, honest Everyman, and won him his first Oscar(r) nomination.
Like Captain America :), Jimmy Stewart had difficulty enlisting in the armed services due to being underweight. In October 1940, he was drafted into the United States Army but was rejected for being five pounds under the standard. He sought the assistance of MGM muscle man and trainer Don Loomis and eventually passed the weigh-in to be enlisted on March 22, 1941 (several months before the US entered the war). He was the first major American movie star to wear a military uniform in World War II.
History of service: The actor came from a long line of military men who served in wars as far back as the American Revolution. Above, he stands with his father, a World War I veteran, outside their family hardware store
James M. Stewart enlists as a private in the United States Army, 22 March 1941. (Los Angeles Times)
He enlisted as a private, but because of his college degree and being a licensed pilot, he applied for an Air Corps commission. On January 19, 1942, he received his commission as a second lieutenant.
Corporal James M. Stewart was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, at Moffett Field, California, 19 January 1942. (AP)
Also like Captain America, at first Jimmy Stewart made a lot of public appearances and a recruitment film, Winning the Wings. This resulted in 150,000 new recruits. If you wish to watch it, it is 17:33 minutes in length.
Through 1942 and much of 1943, Jimmy Stewart struggled with the desire to see combat but having his celebrity status and his age regulate him to behind the lines. By the summer of 1943, he was promoted to captain and appointed squadron commander but combat duty seemed far out of reach for the 35 year old. After appealing to his commander, Stewart was assigned to the 445th Bomb Group as an operations officer of the 703d Bombardment Squadron and eventually he became its commander.
- The 445th Bomb Group flew to RAF Tibenham, Norfolk, England where it flew several weeks of training missions.
- On December 13, 1943, the group flew its first combat mission to bomb U-boat facilities in Kiel, Germany. Stewart led the high squadron of the group formation.
- Three days later, on its second mission which was to Bremen, Stewart led the entire group.
Captain James M. Stewart, USAAF, (standing, fourth from left) commanding officer, 703rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 445th Bombardment Group (Heavy), with his squadron officers and a B-24 Liberator long-range heavy bomber, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
- Following a mission to Ludwigshafen, Germany, on January 7, 1944, Stewart was promoted to major.
- Stewart was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions as deputy commander of the 2nd Combat Bombardment Wing on the first day of “Big Week” operations in February and flew two other missions that week.
- On March 22, 1944, Stewart flew his 12th combat mission, leading the 2nd Bomb Wing in an attack on Berlin.
- On March 30, 1944, he was sent to RAF Old Buckenham to become group operations officer of the 453rd Bombardment Group, a new B-24 unit that had just lost both its commander and operations officer on missions.
- Stewart flew as command pilot in the lead B-24 on several missions deep into Nazi-occupied Europe.
- As a staff officer, Stewart was assigned to the 453rd “for the duration” and assigned himself as a combat crewman on the group’s missions until his promotion to lieutenant colonel on June 3
- Reassignment on July 1, 1944, to the 2nd Bomb Wing, assigned as executive officer to Brigadier General Edward J. Timberlake.
Lieutenant Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, executive officer, 2nd Bombardment Wing, post mission, 23 July 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
- His official tally of mission credits while assigned to the 445th and 453rd Bomb Groups totaled 20 sorties.
Stewart continued to make missions, uncredited, flying with the pathfinder squadron of the 389th Bombardment Group, with his two former groups, and with groups of the 20th Combat Bomb Wing. He received a second award of the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions in combat and was awarded the Croix de Guerre.
Receiving French Croix de Guerre with Palm in 1944
He also received the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters. Stewart served in a number of staff positions in the 2nd and 20th Bomb Wings between July 1944 and the end of the war in Europe, and was promoted to full colonel on March 29, 1945. On May 10, 1945, he succeeded to command of the 2nd Bomb Wing, a position he held until June 15. Stewart was one of the few Americans to rise from private to colonel in four years.
Jimmy Stewart continued to play a role in the United States Air Force Reserve after the war. Stewart received permanent promotion to colonel in 1953 and served as Air Force Reserve commander of Dobbins Air Reserve Base. He was also one of the 12 founders and a charter member of the Air Force Association in October 1945.On July 23, 1959, Stewart was promoted to Brigadier General.
During his active duty periods, he remained current as a pilot of Convair B-36 Peacemaker, Boeing B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress intercontinental bombers of the Strategic Air Command. On February 20, 1966, Brigadier General Stewart flew as a non-duty observer in a B-52 on an Arc Light bombing mission during the Vietnam War. At the time of his B-52 flight, he refused the release of any publicity regarding his participation, as he did not want it treated as a stunt, but as part of his job as an officer in the Air Force Reserve. After 27 years of service, Stewart retired from the Air Force on May 31, 1968. He was promoted to major general on the retired list by President Ronald Reagan.
Jimmy Stewart wasn’t the only movie star that went war. Here is a wonderful pinterest board about celebrities that went to war.