Just months after winning his 1941 Academy Award for best =
actor in “The Philadelphia Story,” Jimmy Stewart, one of the =
best-known actors of the day, left Hollywood and joined the US Army. He =
was the first big-name movie star to enlist in World War II.
An accomplished private pilot, the 33-year-old Hollywood =
icon became a US Army Air Force aviator, earning his 2nd Lieutenant =
commission in early 1942. With his celebrity status and huge popularity =
with the American public, he was assigned to starring in recruiting =
films, attending rallies, and training younger pilots.
Stewart, however, wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to fly =
combat missions in Europe, not spend time in a stateside training =
command. By 1944, frustrated and feeling the war was passing him by, he =
asked his commanding officer to transfer him to a unit deploying to =
Europe. His request was reluctantly granted.
Stewart, now a Captain, was sent to England, where he =
spent the next 18 months flying B-24 Liberator bombers over Germany. =
Throughout his time overseas, the US Army Air Corps’ top brass had tried =
to keep the popular movie star from flying over enemy territory. But =
Stewart would hear nothing of it.
Determined to lead by example, he bucked the system, =
assigning himself to every combat mission he could. By the end of the =
war he was one of the most respected and decorated pilots in his =
But his wartime service came at a high personal price. In =
the final months of WWII he was grounded for being “flak =
happy,” today called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder =
When he returned to the US in =
August 1945, Stewart was a changed man. He had lost so much weight that =
he looked sickly. He rarely slept, and when he did he had nightmares of =
planes exploding and men falling through the air screaming (in one =
mission alone his unit had lost 13 planes and 130 men, most of whom he =
He was depressed, couldn’t =
focus, and refused to talk to anyone about his war experiences. His =
acting career was all but over. As one of Stewart’s biographers put it, =
"Every decision he made [during the war] was going to preserve life =
or cost lives. He took back to Hollywood all the stress that he had =
In 1946 he got his break. He took =
the role of George Bailey, the suicidal father in “It’s a =
Wonderful Life.” The rest is history.
Actors and crew of the set =
realized that in many of the disturbing scenes of George Bailey =
unraveling in front of his family, Stewart wasn’t acting. His PTSD =
was being captured on filmed for potentially millions to see. But =
despite Stewart’s inner turmoil, making the movie was therapeutic for =
the combat veteran. He would go on to become one of the most =
accomplished and loved actors in American history.
When asked in 1941 why he wanted =
to leave his acting career to fly combat missions over Nazi Germany, he =
said, "This country’s conscience is bigger than all the studios in =
Hollywood put together, and the time will come when we’ll have to =
We need to remember the =
sacrifices of Jimmy Stewart and all the men who gave up so much to serve =
their country during wartime. We will always remember you! [Jimmy =
Stewart was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985 and died =
in 1997 at the age of 89.
[Ned Forney, Writer, Saluting America’s =
Dr Bob Griffin =
Knows Me, This I Love!"