Most only know him as a famous actor who played roles as a military officer, a cowboy, a famous band leader, a businessman and a politician.
But few seem to know the true story behind the fascinating military career of one of this country’s greatest actors.
Jimmy Stewart led a very successful career as a bomber pilot and command level officer during WWII.
This page is dedicated to the memory of Jimmy Stewart, his military career, and those who served with him during WWII in the skies above Europe.
This is one of the few pages on my site which does not show something from my collection. It is simply a tribute to a great American actor, a distinguished veteran and an All-American role model.
While establishing his reputation as an actor, the rest of the world was about to go to war.
German occupation in numerous countries in the early part of 1940 led Congress on September 16, 1940 to pass the Selective Service Bill, “the draft.” This bill called for 900,000
men between the ages of 20 and 36 to be drafted each year. Stewart’s draft number was 310.
When his number was called and he appeared at Draft Board No. 245 in West Los Angeles in February 1941, the 6’3” Stewart weighed only 138 pounds, 5 pounds under the acceptable weight level.
He was turned down for service. Stewart wanted to fly and serve his country but by May of 1941 he would have been too old to get into flight school.
He went home ate everything he could that was fattening and went back and enlisted in the Army Air Corps, he passed the physical with an ounce to spare and began his military service
as a private.
While others tried to avoid the draft, he actually wanted to serve in the military and was the first Hollywood star to enter military service prior or during WWII.
Interested in aviation as a child, he had taken his first flight while still in Indiana from one of the
barnstorming pilots that used to travel the Midwest. As a successful actor in 1935 Jimmy was
able to afford flying lessons. He received his civilian pilot’s license in 1935, and bought his first airplane.
In 1938 he obtained his commercial pilot’s license. He often flew cross country to visit his parents in Pennsylvania, navigating by the railroad tracks.
In the military, he was to make extensive use of his civilian 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 his 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 four engine instructor, this included both the B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers.
Much to his dismay, Stewart stayed stateside for almost two years working as a flight instructor, until commanding officers finally yielded to his request to be sent overseas.
In November 1943, now a Captain and Operations Officer for the 703rd Bomb Squadron, 445th Bombardment Group of the Eighth Air Force, he arrived in Tibenham, England.
In March of 1944 he was transferred to the 453rd Bombardment Group at Old Buckenham (Old Buc).
Throughout his combat career, Stewart flew as lead pilot in B-24 Liberators.
Stewart’s war record included 20 combat missions as command pilot over enemy territory, including raids deep into Germany to Berlin.
He didn’t fly the milk runs, and his missions included bombing raids to Berlin, Brunswick, Bremen, Frankfurt, and Schweinfurt.
His most memorable mission, Stewart served as the flight leader of a 1000 plain raid to Berlin.
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.
By 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 eventually promoted to Brigadier General in 1959.
In 1966, he participated in a bombing strike in Vietnam, as an observer on a B-52 bomber. He retired from the Air Force in 1968 and received the Distinguished Service Medal and ultimately, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Upon returning to Hollywood, Stewart took a brief vacation, spending time in his home town with his parents.
He then returned to Hollywood and made his first post-war movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life“ in 1946.
A brief overview Stewart’s military career:
Served overseas 21 months
Completed 20 combat missions
Awarded six battle stars
Served with the Air Force Reserves
Promoted to Brigadier General , July 1959
Awarded Distinguished Service Medal 1968
Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom 1985
Medals awarded to BGen. Stewart:
Distinguished Service Medal
Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster
Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters
Army Commendation Medal
American Defense Service Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 3 Service Stars
World War II Victory Medal
Armed Forces Reserve Medal
French Croix de Guerre with Palm
Presidential Medal of Freedom
A terrific book written about the military career of Jimmy Stewart.
Written by Starr Smith, with a
forward by Walter Cronkite, this book accurately traces the military career of Jimmy
Stewart from his induction into the U.S. Army as a private, to his final days in Hollywood.
The book provides a glimpse into the extraordinary and private life of this brave man
who gave up his celebrity status and the comforts of Hollywood, out of a sense of duty and honor to serve his country.
Through the use of anecdotes and behind the scene details, the reader will learn how Stewart set himself apart from the majority of the other Hollywood stars, who joined the military during
the war but remained far removed from the dangers of combat.
Anyone who has an interest in Stewart or military aviation will enjoy this book and the image it accurately paints of this true war hero.
Written by Starr Smith, a terrific journalist, and a man who erved with Stewart during the war.
The 445th Bomb Group
As Stewart himself would likely have said, he couldn’t have been as successful as he was during his wartime career, if it wasn’t for the dedication, sacrifice and devotion to duty of the men of the 703rd Bomb Squadron, 445th Bombardment Group of the 8th Air Force. Below are some brief wartime facts related to the 445th Bomb Group.
Constituted as 445th Bombardment Group (Heavy): Mar 20, 1943
Activated: Apr 1, 1943
Gowen Field, Idaho, Apr 1, 1943;
Wendover Field, Utah, Jun 8, 1943
Sioux City AAB, Iowa, Jul 8 – Oct 20, 1943
Tibenham, England, Nov 4, 1943 – May 28, 1945
Ft Dix AAB, NJ, Jun 9 – Sep 12, 1945.
Col Robert H Terrill, 1 Apr 1943
Col William W Jones, 25 Jul 1944-12 Sep 1945.
Air Offensive, Europe; Normandy; Northern France; Rhineland; Ardennes-Alsace; Central Europe.
Distinguished Unit Citation: Gotha, Germany, Feb 24, 1944. rench Croix de Guerre with Palm.
The 445th was comprised of 4 bomb squadrons (700th, 701st, 702nd and 703rd). In just under 17 months, aircrews of the 445th flew 280 combat mission against a variety of targets within occupied Europe.
The ordnance their aircraft carried ranged from high explosives to fuel and supplies for Patton’s 3rd Army during the Battle of the Bulge in December ’44.
Their targets consisted of railroad marshalling yards, oil efineries, fighter aircraft roduction facilities, various industrial targets, harbor facilities and enemy airfields.
To learn more about the 445th Bomb Group, click on the link below to visit the website dedicated to this decorated bomb group.
The B-24 had the highest production of any bomber in World War II. By the end of the war, over 18,000 of these bombers had been produced.
An amazing accomplishment, as the prototype first flew in December of 1941.
The plane was heavily used in Europe along with the B-17 in daylight raids on the continent. It was also widely utilized in the Pacific because of its ability to fly long ranges.
Length: 67 ft 8 in (20.6 m)
Wingspan: 110 ft 0 in (33.5 m)
Height: 18 ft 0 in (5.5 m)
Wing area: 1,048 ft² (97.4 m²)
Empty weight: 36,500 lb (16,590 kg)
Loaded weight: 55,000 lb (25,000 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 65,000 lb (29,500 kg)
Powerplant: 4× Pratt & Whitney R-1830 turbosupercharged radial engines, 1,200 hp (900 kW) each
* Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0406
Drag area: 42.54 ft² (3.95 m²)
Aspect ratio: 11.55
Maximum speed: 290 mph (250 knots, 470 km/h)
Cruise speed: 215 mph (187 knots, 346 km/h)
Stall speed: 95 mph (83 knots, 153 km/h)
Combat radius: 2,100 mi (1,800 NM, 3,400 km)
Ferry range: 3,700 mi (3,200 NM, 6,000 km)
Service ceiling 28,000 ft (8,500 m)
Rate of climb: 1,025 ft/min (5.2 m/s)
Wing loading: 52.5 lb/ft² (256 kg/m²)
Power/mass: 0.0873 hp/lb (144 W/kg)
Lift-to-drag ratio: 12.9
Guns: 10× .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns
Short range (˜400 mi): 8,000 lb (3,600 kg)
Long range (˜800 mi): 5,000 lb (2,300 kg)
Very long range (˜1,200 mi): 2,700 lb (1,200 kg)