Monday may mark Memorial Day. But it also celebrates this anniversary. On this day, one of Hollywood’s leading men Jimmy Stewart officially retired from the United States Air Force in 1968. The actor spent 27 years in military service.
He became a leading man in the industry before joining the Air Force in World War II. Stewart found great acclaim during his early career appearing in films such as “Destry Rides Again” or “The Shop Around the Corner” in the 1930s. But his real passion had been aviation. He logged over 400 hours of flight time during his early career between filming.
As a kid, Stewart wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. But his father talked him out of joining the Air Force. Opportunity came knocking in the 1940s. The Army initially drafted Stewart to join their ranks. But he was several pounds underweight of the required standards. Eventually, Stewart managed to put on a little weight and joined the Air Force instead.
Jimmy Stewart Spent 27 Years in Air Force
Stewart trained at Moffett Field in California for his eventual role as a pilot. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the military was looking for potential soldiers with pilot experience. Stewart’s hundreds of hours of charted flight time made him the perfect candidate.
For nine months, Stweart flew bombardiers in Albuquerque, New Mexico and trained in AT-6 and B-17 aircraft. It wasn’t long before the actor earned his pilot wings and followed his passion for flying into an active warzone. In 1943, the Air Force sent Stewart to England as Commanding Officer of the 703d Bomb Squadron. Less than a year later, he started piloting into combat missions.
Stewart quickly moved up the ranks during the War. He became Operations Officer of the 453rd Bomb Group first and later became Chief of Staff of the 2nd Combat wing, 2nd Air Division of the 8th Air Force. In total, Stewart flew 20 combat missions during World War II.
After the War, Stewart stayed in the military for two more decades. He entered the reserves and later became brigadier general in 1959. Finally, he retired in 1968. But in 1985, President Ronald Reagan awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom and made him a major general.
But many remember Stewart for his movie career, which he continued after the war. He starred in classics such as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and also “Rear Window” as well. When he passed away in 1997, Stewart had two Academy Awards and two Golden Globes to his name.