James Stewart’s path toward Brigadier General Stewart began on September 16, 1940 when the Selective Service Bill was enacted and called for 900,000 men between the ages of 20 and 36 be drafted into the United States Army each year. The popular actor was eager to serve his country and answered the call to duty in 1941 only to be turned down for failing to meet the minimum weight requirement.
Despite Jimmy Stewart’s love of flying and his commercial pilot’s license, he could not enlist in a flight school program due to age requirements. To fulfill his lifelong ambition to become a military pilot, his only recourse was to go back home to Indiana, Pennsylvania for an intensive fattening up program.
While many others were trying to avoid the draft, Stewart returned to California to enlist in the Army Air Corps. He passed the physical with only ounces to spare and reported for duty as Private James Stewart, becoming the first major American movie star to wear a uniform for the United States military.
Although his film star status would have kept him stateside, the then Second Lieutenant actively campaigned for combat duties after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
While awaiting his chance for overseas duties, Stewart’s appearance and narration in the United States Army Air Corp propaganda film, “Winning Your Wings”, resulted in 150,000 new recruits for the United States WWII efforts.
It was in December of 1943 before the then Captain was able to convince his commanding officers to allow him to serve overseas and he was sent with the 445th Bombardment Group to RAF Tibenham, Norfolk, England to immediately begin flying their B-24 Liberator bombers into enemy territory. While flying missions over Germany, he was promoted to Major and as command pilot would lead the B-24 squadron on numerous missions deep into Nazi-occupied Europe.
After flying at least 20 combat missions, Stewart was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross twice as well as receiving the Croix De Guerre with Palm for exceptional services in the liberation of France.
Stewart was made Chief of Staff of the 2nd Combat Bombardment Wing of the Eighth Air Force and was no longer required to fly in combat. He continued to do so.
Before the war ended, he was promoted to Colonel becoming one of the few Americans to rise from private to colonel in four years. He continued to serve as Air Force Reserve Commander of Dobbins Air Reserve Base in the early 1950s.
Promoted to Brigadier General on July 23, 1959, he would later fly as a non duty observer on a B-52 bombing mission during the Vietnam War. Fearing the mission would be regarded as a stunt rather than his job as an officer in the Air Force Reserve, he refused to release any publicity regarding the mission.
Brigadier General Stewart retired from the United States Air Force on May 31st, 1968. He was promoted to Major General by President Ronald Reagan. Read more about Brigadier General James Stewart.