Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Man's Man

From Wiki

[edit] Military service

Brig. Gen. James M. Stewart, USAF Reserve, c.1960.

The Stewart family had deep military roots as both grandfathers had fought in the Civil War, and his father had served during both the Spanish-American War and World War I. Since Stewart considered his father to be the biggest influence on his life, it was not surprising that when another war eventually came, he too served. Although members of his family had previously served in the infantry, Stewart chose to become a military flyer.[24]

An early interest in flying led Stewart to gain his Private Pilot certificate in 1935 and Commercial Pilot certificate in 1938. He often flew cross-country to visit his parents in Pennsylvania, navigating by the railroad tracks.[6] Nearly two years before the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Stewart had accumulated over 400 hours of flying time.[25]

Considered a highly proficient pilot, he even entered a cross-country race as a co-pilot in 1939.[26] Along with musician/composer Hoagy Carmichael, seeing the need for trained war pilots, Stewart joined with other Hollywood celebrities to invest in Thunderbird Field, a pilot training school built and operated by Southwest Airways in Glendale, Arizona. This airfield became part of the United States Army Air Forces training establishment and trained more than 10,000 pilots during WWII, and is now the home of Thunderbird School of Global Management.[27]

Later in 1940, Stewart was drafted into the United States Army but was rejected for failing to meet height and weight requirements for new recruits—Stewart was five pounds (2.3 kg) under the standard. To get up to 148 pounds he sought out the help of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's muscle man, Don Loomis, who was noted for his ability to add or subtract pounds in his studio gymnasium. Stewart subsequently attempted to enlist in the Army Air Corps, but still came in under the weight requirement, although he persuaded the AAC enlistment officer to run new tests, this time passing the weigh-in,[28] with the result that Stewart enlisted in the Army in March 1941. He became the first major American movie star to wear a military uniform in World War II.

Stewart enlisted as a private[6][29] and began pilot training in the USAAC. During this time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the US into direct involvement in the war. Stewart continued his military training and earned a commission as a second lieutenant in January, 1942. He was posted to Moffett Field and then Mather Field as an instructor pilot in single- and twin-engine aircraft.[29]

Public appearances by Stewart were limited engagements scheduled by the Army Air Forces. "Stewart appeared several times on network radio with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, he performed with Orson Welles, Edward G. Robinson, Walter Huston and Lionel Barrymore in an all-network radio program called We Hold These Truths, dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights."[30] In early 1942, Stewart was asked to appear in a propaganda film to help recruit the anticipated 100,000 airmen the USAAF would need to win the war. The USAAF's First Motion Picture Unit shot scenes of Lieutenant Stewart in his pilot's flight suit and recorded his voice for narration. The short film, Winning Your Wings, appeared nationwide beginning in late May and was very successful, resulting in 150,000 new recruits.[31]

Stewart was concerned that his expertise and celebrity status would relegate him to instructor duties "behind the lines."[32] His fears were confirmed when he was stationed for six months at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico to train bombardiers. He was transferred to Hobbs AAF to become an instructor pilot for the four-engined B-17 Flying Fortress. He trained B-17 pilots for nine months at Gowen Field in Boise, Idaho.[29]

"Still, the war was moving on. For the 36-year-old Stewart, combat duty seemed far away and unreachable and he had no clear plans for the future. But then a rumor that Stewart would be taken off flying status and assigned to making training films or selling bonds called for his immediate and decisive action, because what he dreaded most was the hope-shattering spectre of a dead end."[33] Stewart appealed to his commander, a pre-war aviator, who understood the situation and reassigned him to a unit going overseas.

Col. Stewart being awarded the Croix de guerre with palm by Lt. Gen. Henri Valin, Chief of Staff of the French Air Force, for his role in the liberation of France. USAF photo.

In August 1943 he was finally assigned to the 445th Bombardment Group at Sioux City AAB, Iowa, first as Operations Officer of the 703rd Bombardment Squadron and then as its commander, at the rank of Captain. In December, the 445th Bombardment Group flew its B-24 Liberator bombers to RAF Tibenham, Norfolk, England and immediately began combat operations. While flying missions over Germany, Stewart was promoted to Major. In March 1944, he was transferred as group operations officer to the 453rd Bombardment Group, a new B-24 unit that had been experiencing difficulties. As a means to inspire his new group, Stewart flew as command pilot in the lead B-24 on numerous missions deep into Nazi-occupied Europe. These missions went uncounted at Stewart's orders. His "official" total is listed as 20 and is limited to those with the 445th. In 1944, he twice received the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions in combat and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. He also received the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters. In July 1944, after flying 20 combat missions, Stewart was made Chief of Staff of the 2nd Combat Bombardment Wing of the Eighth Air Force, and though he was no longer required or expected to fly missions, he continued to do so. Before the war ended, he was promoted to colonel, one of very few Americans to rise from private to colonel in four years.[6][29]

At the beginning of June 1945, Stewart was the presiding officer of the court-martial of a pilot and navigator who were charged with dereliction of duty when they accidentally bombed the Swiss city of Zurich the previous March—the first instance of U.S. personnel being tried over an attack on a neutral country. The Court acquitted the accused.[34]

Stewart continued to play a role in the United States Air Force Reserve after the war, achieving the rank of Brigadier General on July 23, 1959.[35] Stewart did not often talk of his wartime service, perhaps due to his desire to be seen as a regular soldier doing his duty instead of as a celebrity. He did appear on the TV series The World At War to discuss the October 14, 1943 bombing mission to Schweinfurt, which was the center of the German ball bearing manufacturing industry. This mission is known in USAF history as Black Thursday due to the high casualties it sustained; 60 aircraft were lost out of 291 dispatched, as the raid consisting entirely of B-17s was unescorted to Schweinfurt and back due to the available escort aircraft lacking the range. Upon his request, he was identified only as "James Stewart, Squadron Commander" in the documentary.[36]

He served as Air Force Reserve commander of Dobbins Air Reserve Base in the early 1950s. In 1966, Brigadier General James Stewart flew as a non-duty observer in a B-52 on a bombing mission during the Vietnam War. At the time of his B-52 flight, he refused the release of any publicity regarding his participation as he did not want it treated as a stunt, but as part of his job as an officer in the Air Force Reserve. After 27 years of service, Stewart retired from the Air Force on May 31, 1968.[37] After his retirement, he was promoted to Major General by President Ronald Reagan.

The entry goes on to say he was a staunch Republican.

Let's see Clooney or Pitt or any of the current crop pull anything near what Stewart did.


JB1000 said...

I am certain they would be happy to play him in the movie adaptation. They could tell us all about how much he disagreed with the war and how Chamberlain was right all along.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, sir.

Anonymous said...

Impressive stuff right there.

If you like old school fightin' actors, Christopher Lee was also in WWII in the Special Operations Executive; whatever he did is still classified, but this is an interesting detail:

"When I was shooting the stabbing shot with Christopher, as a director would I was explaining to him what he should do when Wormtongue stabs him in the back — like sort of the air’s escaping out of you. And he says, “Peter, have you ever heard the sound a man makes when he’s stabbed in the back?” And I said, “Um, no.” And he says “Well, I have, and I know what to do.”

Also when Clooney and Pitt are in their 90's they're probably not going to be doing guest appearances on heavy metal records. Lee has been known to do that...

Cheers Cap'n & keep up the good work on the blog

Anonymous said...

Stewart was only one of many Hollywood vets, as back then Hollywood didn't hate the country. Clark Gable also saw combat in the skies over Germany. Most stars, though, were valued by the Army more as propaganda tools than as soldiers, so they made training films and such (many of the big named stars were already too old for front line duty, anyway). Robert Taylor, for instance, was a flight instructor who starred in a number of training films.

CBMTTek said...

Cap't, I am sorry, but I think you are being a bit harsh here.

James Stewart is, and will always be, and impressive man, and a role model sorely needed in society today. I do not wish to take anything away from his service record, or his personal mettle.

But, realize that during the 40s, there were plenty of celebrities that choose not to volunteer in any way, or when they did, it was as a "spokesperson" or something similar.

I think of folks like Pat Tillman that walked away from a multimillion professional football career to serve as an Army Ranger as the modern day Jimmy Stewart. People of that caliber only come along one or two to a generation.

I agree, most of today's celebrities are not likely to risk dirtying up their pretty face, or well, let's be honest, they are not likely to risk actual hard work in any way, to serve their fellow citizens. More likely, they are going to speak out about how great socialism is, and how we should praise our enemies instead of fighting them, but in their own pampered and narcissist minds, they see that as serving their country.

About the only thing we can do is continue to praise folks like Gen. Stewart for their selfless service, for doing the ugly, dirty jobs because they feel the call to duty. And in doing so, we also let the world know that we are not impressed by the Tim Robbins and Jane Fondas of the world.

Guy Jean said...

You like a man's man? Check out Rudel. Talk about (in)glorious bastards...

Model Airplanes said...

Honor is to be given to the many men and women who fought for their country while risking their own life for the sake of peace.

Anonymous said...

An honourable mention should also go to Leslie Howard who died in WW2 after his plane was shot down. He was known for his propaganda work against the Nazis and it was rumoured he was a spy.

Also, check out William Smith:

Small time actor who was a spy during the Korean war and also a champion weightlifter and arm wrestler.

- Breeze

The Shrug said...

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