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Jimmy Stewart: WWII vet, actor, American patriot

Jimmy Stewart was a Hollywood icon. He was also a war hero.
Joel Searls Avatar

James “Jimmy” Stewart is an iconic Hollywood star and legend. He starred in some of the greatest films of all time, which include Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Philadelphia Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, Rear Window, Vertigo, Anatomy of a Murder, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Flight of the Phoenix. His characters exuded morality on the screen, which Stewart brought from his real-life self. Stewart was named by AFI as the third greatest American male actor. He earned an Oscar for Best Actor in The Philidelphia Story and in 1985, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He served in World War II as a pilot in the Army Air Corps and then returned to Hollywood, an even better actor to resume his career.

Major Jimmy Stewart confers with a B-24 crew member. Photo courtesy of nationalmuseum.af.mil

The US entered World War II in 1941. Stewart’s patriotism took full hold and he joined the Army Air Corps as a pilot. He joined at age 33 and rose from the rank of private to full colonel by the end of the war. He flew B-24s over Europe on bombing missions and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, the French Croix de Guerre and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters. He transitioned back to the States after the war and joined the USAF Reserves. He served on active duty for stints with the Strategic Air Command and trained as a B-47 and B-52 pilot. He rose to the rank of Brigadier General and flew on board a B-52 as an aerial observer in the Vietnam War.

Brigadier General James M. Stewart of the USAF Reserve.

During his World War II service, he crossed paths with a fellow friend, service member and Hollywood icon, Clark Gable. Gable, known as The King of Hollywood, served in the US Army Air Forces. Known for his star status and major roles in Gone with the Wind, It Happened One Night and Mutiny on the Bounty, he brought a regular man’s attitude to his service and enlisted as a private with the desire to work his way through the ranks. He flew missions as an observer-gunner in B-17s on bombing missions over Europe. Gable earned an Air Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross. He returned stateside at the behest of MGM studio executives as the missions Gable flew on were dangerous and many crew members were injured or killed. Gable returned stateside assigned to the Motion Picture Unit. He spent the rest of his time stateside and left the service as a Major.

Stewart and Gable in uniform during the war in 1943. Photo courtesy of the defensemedianetwork.com.

Stewart crossed paths with many great and influential people throughout his life, especially during the service. His return to the States post-war reignited his career, whereby he starred in many major hits, especially westerns. His last role was as the voice of Wyle Burp in An American Tale: Feivel Goes West, which is an animated western. Stewart supposedly did the role in the film so his grandchildren would have a more recent project to know their grandfather through. His ever-present patriotism, idealism and likeability have furthered his Hollywood legend status, which carries on today with yearly showings of It’s a Wonderful Life on TV and now streaming platforms across the country.