Friday, May 15, 2020

Jimmy Stewart

In a recent post I promised in the comments to write about Jimmy Stewart. The more I looked, the harder it got. Jimmy Stewart certainly was a hero but his life story is an American story and his heroism has a context as part of that life.

I'm not going to retype the biography, you can read it here at the Jimmy Stewart Museum.

Here's what they say about his time in the service.
In the military, he was to make extensive use of his pilot’s training. In March 1941 at age 32, he reported for duty as Private James Stewart at Fort McArthur and was assigned to the Army Air Corps at Moffett Field.  To comply with the regulations of the Air Corps proficiency board, Stewart required additional 100 flying hours and bought them at a nearby field, at this own expense.  He then took and passed a very stiff proficiency board examination.  In January 1942 Stewart was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. He was then sent to Mather Field in California as a twin engine instructor this included both the B-17 and B-24.  Much to his dismay, Stewart stayed stateside for almost two years, until commanding officers finally yielded to his request to be sent overseas.  In November 1943, now a Captain and Operations Officer for the 703rd Squadron, 445th Bombardment Group of the Eight Air Force, he arrived in Tibenham, England.  In March of 1944 he was transferred to the 453rd Bombardment Group at Old Buckenham.  While stateside, Stewart flew B-17’s (The Flying Fortress).  In England he flew B-24’s (The Liberator) and did so for the remaining years of the war.  Stewart’s war record included 20 dangerous combat missions as command pilot, wing commander or squadron commander.  He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters, The Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm.  At the end of the war he had risen to the rank of Colonel.  After the war he remained with the US Air Force Reserves and was promoted to Brigadier General in 1959.  His tuxedo and dress blues with all the correct medals are on display at The Jimmy Stewart Museum.  He retired from the Air Force in 1968 (mandatory retirement age) and received the Distinguished Service Medal. 
You did go RTWT, right? Boy Scout, devoted husband and father, conservative in Hollywood, winner of all those award for humanitarian service? Performed in 80 movies over 55 years?

Here he is as a young man in a recruiting film for the Army Air Corps.

And here's some scenes from a few of his films with a narration by George Kennedy that gives a picture of Jimmy Stewart the actor.

And all that is good and interesting, but I'm going to give Jimmy Stewart himself the last word. He was being interviewed late in his life and was asked how he would like to be remembered.

I hope to be remembered as someone who believed in hard work and love of country, love of family and love of community. 
--Jimmy Stewart


Ed Bonderenka said...

I find it incredible that no mention was made of his Hitchcock films, The Man Who Knew Too Much and certainly Vertigo.
I had always thought he flew B-17s not B-24s, so it surprises me that no mention of that is made at the Yankee Air Force Museum at Willow Run, home of the B-24.

And interestingly, he was able to maintain a lifelong friendship with a political/philosophical opposite, Henry Fonda.

I've always admired the man since my dad told me about him.

It's said that he was working out some of his PTSD (which was why he questioned his ability to act after the war) in It's A Wonderful Life.

Thanks for the tribute to him.

Old NFO said...

Nicely done! And he flew at least one mission in a B-52 during Vietnam.

Beans said...

I read somewhere that his service in WWII gave him what we now call PTSD. Which Frank Capra exploited to get Stewart's harrowing portrayal of a man on the edge in... "It's a Wonderful Life."

And, funny, the exploitation by Capra allowed Stewart to control his PTSD.

A very greatly underappreciated man these days. Stewart, that is. Capra, okay, him too.

MrGarabaldi said...


HE always played the "Guy Next door with the soft voice and the common sense". That's why he did so well, so many could relate to him. I have seen him in Hitchcock movies, Westerns, and of course SAC. He along with John Wayne were to me the "all Americans".

Miguel GFZ said...

And he got to kiss the most beautiful actresses of his era.
Not a bad life.

Sherm said...

I like that he was so tall and thin that he had to gorge on milkshakes to be heavy enough to pass his induction physical.

The second thing I like (as I recall) is that when he heard about Pearl Harbor he was a PFC standing guard duty at Moffet Field.

This book talks about his military career. I got it for $1.00 once upon ago.

drjim said...

"Rear Window" is one of my all-time favorite films, and Jimmy Stewart is in my top 5 favorite American actors.

libertyman said...

I will have to get to his museum in Western Pennsylvania some time, he was quite a guy.
(I ordered the book about him, thanks for the recommendation)

David said...

I love that he never allowed Hollywood to capitalize on his military service to further his acting career.

And his interviews on the Tonight Show were always a treat.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

One of my favorites.

Will said...

"...he never allowed Hollywood to capitalize on his military service..."

TPTB in Hollywood hated that any of their people had to stoop to playing in the military for real. They held a grudge if that actor actually volunteered for combat service. The sad thing is the military seemed to have the same attitude about actors daring to play in their sandbox, instead of staying on the screen.

You can read about Douglass Fairbanks Jr's problems with both groups due to his US Navy activities. IIRC, he was the most decorated actor to ever serve in the military, although the soldier that became an actor, Audie Murphy, had more medals. Fairbanks was the biggest star in Hollywood when he went active. Hollywood moguls never forgave him. They paid mere lip service to patriotism. I haven't read any specifics, but I'm sure that Stewart paid a price after returning to work, due to that attitude.

Fairbanks created a Navy group called the Beach Jumpers, IIRC. His group has actions recorded in WW2 Military History. Interesting character.

Shoot, he has a Wiki page about this!: