The patriotism of James “Jimmy” Maitland Stewart (1908-1997), one of America’s most beloved actors, was grounded in his smalltown upbringing and family military service history reaching back to the Civil War. Rejected as underweight by his draft board, he went on a crash-eating program to bulk up. On March 22, 1941, one month after winning his best actor Oscar for his role as a tabloid journalist in “The Philadelphia Story,” Stewart was accepted into the U.S. Army Air Corps – the first major movie star to enter the military.
Stewart then found himself fighting stateside duty training pilots, narrating films and selling war bonds. In November 1943, Capt. Jimmy Stewart achieved his combat theater goal, arriving in England as a B-24 Liberator pilot. In September 1945, he returned home as a colonel and a decorated hero, having received the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Croix de Guerre with Palm, and other medals.
Stewart entered the Air Force Reserve and retired after 27 years of service with the rank of brigadier general, the highest-ranking Hollywood actor to serve in uniform. The on-screen honest, straightforward and humble “everyman” persona audiences loved was the same off-screen. His postwar movie contracts contained a clause that prevented studios from capitalizing on his military and war records.
– Dwight Jon Zimmerman, president of the Military Writers Society of America, whose books include “Lincoln’s Last Days” and “Uncommon Valor: The Medal of Honor and the Warriors Who Earned It in Afghanistan and Iraq”