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War Hero and Patriot
Being awarded the Croix de Guerre by|
Lt. Gen. Valin, Chief of Staff, French Air Force.
James Stewart wanted his war heroics kept a secret following WWII, but the truth is that he was one of it's great heroes.|
One of the first Hollywood celebrities to be drafted into the United States Army, Jimmy was initially rejected for failing to meet the minimum height/weight ratio requirements (he was ten pounds under weight). He could have avoided war service with his dignity preserved, but instead set about getting up to the 148 pounds required of him by going on a high fat diet. On his second attempt to enlist (in the Army Air Corps) he just scraped through.
Enlisted as a private he began pilot training in the USAAC. It was during this time that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the US into the war. Continuing his training, he earned a commission as a second lieutenant in January of 1942.
Already a skilled pilot before the war, Jimmy was posted as an instructor pilot at various air bases within the US and used in a propaganda film to encourage Air Force recruitment and keep public morale high. The military, fearful of losing a major celebrity in action, wanted to keep him safe and sound in the United States, but this was not enough for Stewart. He wanted to serve in Europe.
Frustrated and concerned that he would be kept 'behind the lines' for the rest of the war, he appealed to his commander, who co-operated with his wishes, and in August of 1943 reassigned him to a unit which was shortly to be sent into action overseas. The unit was the 445th Bombardment Group.
Arriving at their base in Norfolk England in December of 1943, the 445th immediately began combat operations flying missions over Germany.
It was during this stage of his service that Stewart, as a result of bravery and intelligence in battle, was promoted to the rank of Major.
In March of 1944 he was transferred as group operations officer to the 453rd Bombardment Group, and during this time he flew as command pilot in the groups lead B-24 plane on several
missions deep into Nazi-occupied Europe.|
In July of 1944, after flying 20 highly dangerous combat missions (note that this was the officially recorded number - he often instructed his personnel not to record his missions), having survived a major air battle with the Luftwaffe and a near fatal crash landing, James Stewart was made Chief of Staff of the 2nd Combat Bombardment Wing of the Eighth Air Force, thus finally, to the Armies relief, removing him from direct combat.
By the end of the war he had achieved the rank of Colonel, had recieved the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions in combat TWICE, had been awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French Air Force, and also received the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters.
Remaining an active member of the US Air Force Reserve after the war, he retired in May of 1968 with the rank of Brigadier General.