There walked a man

As big a fan as I’ve always been of the great Jimmy Stewart, there’s still a lot about him I didn’t know.

20 February 1966: Brigadier General James M. Stewart, United States Air Force Reserve, flew the last combat mission of his military career, a 12 hour, 50 minute “Arc Light” bombing mission over Vietnam, aboard Boeing B-52 Stratofortress of the 736th Bombardment Squadron, 454th Bombardment Wing. His bomber was a B-52F-65-BW, serial number 57-149, call sign GREEN TWO. It was the number two aircraft in a 30-airplane bomber stream.

Plenty more to the Stewart story, of which you should definitely read the all. I’ll just toss some more in for the heck of it.

Concerned that his celebrity status would keep him in “safe” assignments, Jimmy Stewart had repeatedly requested a combat assignment. His request was finally approved and he was assigned as operations officer of the 703rd Bombardment Squadron, 445th Bombardment Group, a B-24 Liberator unit soon to be sent to the war in Europe. Three weeks later, he was promoted to commanding officer of the 703rd.

The 445th Bombardment Group arrived in England on 23 November 1943, and after initial operational training, was stationed at RAF Tibenham, Norfolk, England. The unit flew its first combat mission on 13 December 1943, with Captain Stewart leading the high squadron of the group formation in an attack against enemy submarine pens at Kiel, Germany. On his second mission, Jimmy Stewart led the entire 445th Group.

Following World War II, Jimmy Stewart remained in the U.S. Army Air Forces as a Reserve Officer, and with the United States Air Force after it became a separate service in 1947. Colonel Stewart commanded Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Marietta, Georgia. In 1953, his wartime rank of colonel was made permanent, and on 23 July 1959, Jimmy Stewart was promoted to Brigadier General.

During his active duty periods, Colonel Stewart 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.

During his military service, Brigadier General James Maitland Stewart was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster (two awards); the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters; the Distinguished Service Medal; and the Croix de Guerre avec Palme (France).

General Stewart retired from the U.S. Air Force on 1 June 1968 after 27 years of service.

More stuff I didn’t know:

In World War II, Jimmy Stewart answered the same patriotic call as many men and joined the military. Even though Stewart was a working actor at the time, he felt the call to duty like anyone else and made it his mission to serve America in its time of need. For Stewart it wasn’t just about gaining the accolades and attaboys, he genuinely wanted to serve his country, but that came at a price. By the end of World War II he was suffering from PTSD, something that affected him deeply while filming It’s A Wonderful Life.

By the end of World War II Stewart wasn’t doing well. Men serving with him at the time said that he was suffering from battle fatigue, not in the sense that he was afraid of going into battle, but that he was worried about losing men while performing missions over Europe. This kind of “endless stress” is what grounded him for good towards the end of the war.

Both Stewart and director Frank Capra were dealing with their own personal demons while they were filming It’s A Wonderful Life, but Stewart was certain that he didn’t know how to act anymore. Biographer Robert Matzen writes:

If you watch that performance by Stewart, there was a lot of rage in it and it’s an on-the-edge performance because that’s what those guys were feeling — they were scared that this wasn’t going to work. That the audience wasn’t going to buy it. Donna Reed (playing Stewart’s wife in the film) is one of the eyewitnesses who said, ‘This was not a happy set.’ These guys were very tense. They would go off and huddle say, ‘Should we try this? Should we try that?’ And it proceeded that way for months.

Stewart’s pain and stress is evident in every scene of the film, it’s likely why the film is so affecting. 

Stewart died in 1997, bless his heart. They sure don’t make Hollywood celebs like they used to, eh? Then again, they don’t make Americans like they used to, either.

(First link via Insty)

1 thought on “There walked a man

  1. There’s a story that sometime in the early 1960s Stewart was traveling somewhere in Italy when the desk clerk at a hotel he was planning to stay at informed him that the hotel did not cater to actors and he should find other accommodations.  Stewart pulled out his identification saying that he was a Brigadier General in the United States Air Force and got his room.

    It is also worth noting that he was a PFC standing guard duty at Moffett Field when he heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor.

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