MIGHTY HISTORY

This famous actor was a bomber pilot in WWII

Remember It's a Wonderful Life? The 1946 movie where an angel visits a man to convince him not to kill himself? The actor who portrayed the man was Jimmy Stewart, and he was pretty fresh from bombing missions over Nazi-occupied Europe when he played the part. He also remained in the Air Force Reserve until he retired as a brigadier general.


Lt. Gen. Valin, Chief of Staff, French Air Force, awards the Croix De Guerre with Palm to Col. Jimmy Stewart for exceptional services in the liberation.

(U.S. Air Force)

Stewart was actually drafted into the Army Air Corps as an enlisted man in March 1941. It should be noted that he was already a prominent actor with a number of movies, mostly romantic comedies, under his belt. As an enlisted man, he took extension courses in order to attain his commission and got his lieutenant bars a month after the Pearl Harbor attacks.

While many people of Stewart's fame could've gotten by on morale tours or some cush duty stateside, Stewart volunteered for flight training, earning him a pilot slot. Piloting aircraft was extremely dangerous in World War II, and Stewart was striving for a job more dangerous than rifleman on the ground.

After nine months as an instructor pilot, Stewart got a billet in a unit training up for deployment to England, the 703rd Bomb Squadron. They flew across the Atlantic in late 1943 in new B-24Hs and began raining Hell down on the Third Reich.

Maj. Jimmy Stewart confers with a B-24 crew member.

(U.S. Air Force)

Stewart briefed bomber pilots before missions he wouldn't fly in, and many of the crews reportedly found it amusing to get their instructions from a famous actor, sort of like if Hugh Grant went through crew drills with you before your convoys.

Stewart flew 20 combat missions with the 703rd as the squadron hit oil, ammunition, and chemical plants as well as German air bases and other military positions. He was promoted up the ranks until, by war's end, he was chief of staff of the 2nd Combat Wing.

But Stewart didn't bow out of military service just because the war was over. He remained in the Army Reserve and then the Air Force Reserve when it was formed. In 1959, he was promoted to brigadier general. But he still had one deployment and combat flight left in him.

In 1966, he rode along in a bomber over North Vietnam as an observer. He retired in 1968.

Brig. Gen. James Stewart.

(U.S. Air Force)