The aircraft commander was Captain Bob Amos, and the co-pilot was Captain Lee Meyers. Other crew members were Captain Irby Terrell, radar navigator, Captain Kenny Rahn, navigator, and technical Sergeant Demp Johnson, gunner.
Jimmy Stewart was a successful Hollywood actor. He had been interested in aviation since childhood, earning a private pilot license in 1935, then upgrading to a commercial license in 1938. He owned a Stinson 105 airplane and frequently flew it across the country to visit his family.
Stewart enlisted as a private in the United States Army on March 22, 1941, just three weeks after winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in “The Philadelphia Story.” Military records show that he had brown hair and blue eyes, was 6 feet, 3 inches tall, and weighed 145 pounds (65.8 kilograms).
Because of his college education and experience as a pilot, Corporal Stewart was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps on January 19, 1942. He was assigned as an instructor pilot at Mather Field, near Sacramento, California.
Stewart was promoted to first lieutenant on July 7, 1942. Stewart was next assigned as a pilot at the Bombardier School at Kirtland Army Air Field, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
After transition training in the B-17 Flying Fortress, Lieutenant Stewart was assigned as an instructor at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho. On July 9, 1943, Stewart was promoted to captain and given command of a training squadron.
Concerned that his celebrity status would keep him in “safe” assignments, Jimmy Stewart repeatedly requested a combat assignment. The Army finally approved his request and assigned him 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 the commanding officer of the 703rd.
The 445th Bombardment Group arrived in England on November 23, 1943, and, after initial operational training, was stationed at RAF Tibenham, Norfolk, England. The unit flew its first combat mission on December 13, 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.
On January 20, 1944, Stewart was promoted to major and served as deputy commander of the 2nd Bombardment Wing during a series of missions known as “Big Week.” He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Major Stewart was next assigned as Group Operations Officer of the 453rd Bombardment Wing at RAF Old Buckenham. He assigned himself to fly the lead B-24 in the Group’s missions against Germany until he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on June 3, 1944, and appointed as executive officer of the 2nd Bombardment Wing. In this position, he flew missions with the 445th, 453rd, and 389th Bomb Groups and units of the 20th Combat Bomb Wing.
After being promoted to Colonel on March 29, 1945, he was given command of the 2nd Bombardment Wing. He had risen from Private to Colonel in four years. He received a second Distinguished Flying Cross and was presented the Croix de Guerre Avec Palme by France.
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 July 23, 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.
James Stewart was one of America’s most successful film actors. He made several aviation films, such as “No Highway in the Sky,” “Strategic Air Command,” “The Spirit of St. Louis,” and “The Flight of the Phoenix.”
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 June 1, 1968, after 27 years of service.
© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes
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