‘Forrest Gump’ Star Gary Sinise Remembers Hollywood Icon and ‘Great American’ Jimmy Stewart’s Time in Military

by Taylor Cunningham
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Forrest Gump’s Gary Sinise has chosen to honor the legendary Jimmy Stewart for this week’s Saturday Salute.

On Twitter, the Oscar nominee wrote a proper tribute to the World War II hero through his Gary Sinise Foundation, which honors men and women who serve or have served in all of the US military branches.

“One of my all time favorite actors and a great American,” he wrote. “Jimmy Stewart was simply always worth watching, so many great performances. Thank you Mr Stewart for years of entertaining us and for your service to our country.”

As the foundation wrote in an attached post, Stewart rose to the ranks of brigadier general while spending 27 years in service. And during WWII, he “participated in 20 combat missions over Germany, earning him two distinguished flying crosses and the Croix de Guerre.”

And Jimmy Stewart worked hard to get into the military. With WWII raging overseas, the actor decided to drop out of Hollywood and dedicate his time to the service.

At the time, he had just won his Oscar for The Philadelphia Project. And he was on the path to becoming one of the greatest actors in history. But when a studio boss asked why he decided to give up his career, he had a simple answer.

“This country’s conscience is bigger than all the studios in Hollywood put together,” he said, per Daily Mail. “And the time will come when we’ll have to fight.”

On his first attempt to join the service, he was denied because he was too skinny. But eventually, he packed on enough weight to qualify, and the Air Force called him up just before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

However, he struggled to feel of use once he was in. In his earliest day, the military was scared to put him in battle. So instead, they used him as a poster boy for the Air Force in the Motion Picture Division.

But eventually, Jimmy Stewart was appointed commander of the 703rd squadron. However, the honor didn’t come without a cost. As Robert Matzen, author of Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe, wrote, the actor suffered from intense PTSD, which at the time was called “flak-happy.”

“He wasn’t afraid of bombs or bullets,” Matzen learned from Stewart’s former flight crew. “He was afraid of making a mistake and causing someone to die. That was his endless stress, and that’s what ended up grounding him.”

Jimmy Stewart’s last flight was in February of 1945. As Matzen wrote, the trauma had become too deep, and the actor had to retire.

But after spending some time with his parents, Stewart decided he needed to get back to his career. And his first post-war role was George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.

“The war had changed Jim down to the molecular level,” Matzen wrote. “He could never begin to articulate what those four-and-a-half years, including fifteen months in combat, had done to him. One thing he could do was express a bit of it on-screen.”

Outsider.com