James Stewart Goes to War

US #4197 – Stewart was the 13th honoree in the Legends of Hollywood Series. Click image to order.

On March 22, 1941, James Stewart was inducted into the US Army, making him the first major US movie star to don a military uniform during World War II.

James Stewart developed an early interest in flying and got his pilot’s license in 1938.  Around that same time, he worked with other celebrities to establish Thunderbird Field, a pilot training school in Arizona.

Although he was a big Hollywood star, Stewart felt an obligation to join the war effort.  In October 1940, he first tried to enlist in the US Army but was rejected because he was five pounds underweight.  He then enlisted the help of a trainer to gain the weight and tried again, this time with the Air Corps.  Though he failed his first attempt, he convinced the enlistment officer to try again, and he managed to pass the weigh-in.  Stewart was then inducted into the Army on March 22, 1941, several months before the US officially entered the war.

US #4197 – Fleetwood First Day Cover. Click image to order.

After undergoing service pilot training, Stewart’s first assignment was an appearance at a March of Dimes rally.  He would also participate in several radio broadcasts promoting the war effort and the Winning Your Wings recruitment video, which helped bring in 150,000 new recruits.  Stewart didn’t want to spend the war as a recruiter or trainer, he wanted to go to Europe and fight.

Item #M12217 honors stars who went to war. The top right stamp honors Stewart. Click image to order.

Eventually, Stewart appealed to his commander to recommend he be entered into combat.  He succeeded, and Stewart was assigned to the 703rd Bombardment Squadron.  Within three weeks, he was promoted to its commander.  Stewart finally went on his first combat mission on December 13, 1943, a bombing run over U-boat facilities in Kiel, Germany.  Stewart led two more missions in December and January before being promoted to major.  Then in February, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross.

US #C49 was issued to honor the 50th anniversary of the United States Air Force as a part of our National Defense System. Click image to order.

Exactly three years after his induction into the Army, Stewart flew his 12th combat mission in an attack on Berlin.  He was then made group operations officer of the 453rd Bombardment Group, leading missions into Nazi-occupied Europe.  He went on to earn another Distinguished Flying Cross, the French Croix de Guerre, and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters.  He was promoted to full colonel in March 1945, making him one of just a few Americans to rise from private to colonel in just four years during the war.

US #3167 was issued for the 50th anniversary of the Department of the Air Force.  Click image to order.

After the war, Stewart remained in service of the Army Air Forces and later the US Air Force Reserve.  He served as an Air Force Reserve commander at Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia and flew as a non-duty observer on an Arc Light bombing mission during the Vietnam War.  Stewart retired from the Air Force on May 31, 1968, having served for 27 years.  He received a number of awards as well as the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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  1. An American who decided to put country above his career and did other movie stars. Let’s not worry about TDS.

    1. Okay Carolyn. Since you say so. Keep admiring Hollywood and your circus freak Dimocrats. They are SO much better than your favorite tee-totaling meme in the White House. Still, TDS is real and can be treated.

      1. Sheffield, Stewart was a staunch REPUBLICAN, who endorsed such presidential candidates as Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. He also donated to the 1996 presidential campaign of Bob Dole… who ran against Bill Clinton.

  2. Didn’t allow any bone spurs to keep him out of the service, did he. Commend his effort to get in after several tries for being underweight.

    1. Dr Roger: TDS can be treated with the newer psychiatric drugs. Not cured, of course, but controlled. You ought to prescribe some for yourself since I assume you are an MD?

      1. Here’s this coward again passing out unwanted advice on a stamp blog. What have you done other than critisize?? Oh, nothing. Shut up.

      2. Interesting that the person diagnosing TDS never denies that he and the Cadet are cowardly russian sympathizers. They just attack.

  3. Many actors served in the war. Can’t say any have seen service today. Jimmy Stewart was my inspiration.He knew what it was like to be shot at and learned that from experience. I read his story and because of his experience, in combat, he said he would never make a “war” movie. He roomed with Henry Fonda who was his opposite in so many way. In spite of that, that got along well. Too bad we can’t say that today.What Mystic has to say, sticks like a stamp. Thank you for keeping us collecting.

  4. He did his job; served his country; and earned the respect of his peers at every level. As a veteran myself, I admire him. So, when compared to the draft dodger “running” our country who disparages other war heroes such as John McCain, I think Gen. Stewart deserves his recognition

  5. Yes, he was General Stewart, not Colonel Stewart. Shortly before he retired, he was promoted to Brigadier General. Strange this article did not mention this among all the milestones he reached during his Air Force career.

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