American film and stage actor Jimmy Stewart enlisted as a private in the US Army in March 1941 and was the first major American movie star to wear a military uniform in World War Two. Trained as a pilot, he was promoted to second lieutenant in January 1942. In August 1943, Stewart was assigned to the 445th Bomb Group, first as operations officer of the 703rd Bomb Squadron and then as its commander at the rank of captain.
In December, the 445th Bomb Group transferred to Tibenham in Norfolk, 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
Bomb Group, at Old Buckenham, 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 the few Americans to rise from private to colonel in four years.
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.