The other side of Jimmy Stewart | VailDaily.com
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The other side of Jimmy Stewart

Terri Schlichenmeyer

Sixty-some years ago, when President Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Germany and Japan, almost every American who was able became involved.Some left their children at home in the effort to make planes and ships in factories. Some left their families and traveled across the country and across the world.One left an Academy Award-winning career to do something that he felt he needed to do, and in “Jimmy Stewart, Bomber Pilot” by Starr Smith (c.2005, Zenith Press), you’ll read about that man and his heroism.James Maitland Stewart was born on May 20, 1908 in Indiana, Pennsylvania, his parents’ eldest child and only son. Young Jimmy’s father had served in the Spanish-American War and in World War I, and, as the owner of the town’s hardware store, he hoped that his son would go into the family business. Instead, Jimmy went to college and found that he loved acting. In 1935, Stewart followed his friend and roommate Henry Fonda to Hollywood.Airplanes had always been one of Jimmy’s big fascinations, and he spent hours studying them, building models, and taking flying lessons. Because of his family’s patriotic background, when it became obvious that war was imminent, Stewart decided to enlist in the Army. His Hollywood studio boss, Louis B. Mayer, tried to talk Stewart out of his plans, but fate took matters out of Mayer’s hands: Jimmy was drafted. When the Army turned him down, Stewart was undeterred. He decided to volunteer, and in March of 1941, Private James Stewart reported to duty at Fort MacArthur, California. Because of his interest in flying and his pilot experience, he was assigned to the Army Air Corps (later, the U.S. Air Force).Although the Army apparently would have been happy to have a big-name celebrity to make public appearances on its behalf, Stewart asked repeatedly for combat assignments. Finally, he was granted his wish and in November of 1943, he took his squadron to the 445th Station at Tibenham, England where he became a decorated war hero, a bomber pilot, and a trusted and admired leader.In “Jimmy Stewart, Bomber Pilot”, author Starr Smith has seamlessly done something seemingly impossible: he gently melds together flashy Hollywood stories with reminisces of people who knew Jimmy Stewart as just a “regular” guy. I’ve seen dozens of movies that starred Jimmy Stewart, but I didn’t know that he had flown missions in Vietnam. I wasn’t aware that he eventually joined the Air Force Reserve, and I didn’t know that when he died, he had attained the rank of Brigadier General and was buried with full military honors.There are lots of hard facts in this book that may be difficult to follow if you’re a casual reader, and if you’re looking for a snazzy, gossipy Hollywood-type biography, this is not the book for you. If you’re a World War II veteran or a history buff, though, “Jimmy Stewart, Bomber Pilot” is going to show you how a reel hero became a real hero. VT


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