A Hollywood icon, James ‘Jimmy’ Stewart holds a unique distinction beyond the silver screen. In the annals of U.S. military history, he stands out as the highest-ranking actor, achieving the esteemed position of Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserve. As audiences reveled in his cinematic performances, few were aware of his parallel commitment and ascent within the military ranks.”
Hollywood Stardom Meets Military Distinction: The Dual Legacy of a Renowned Actor
Throughout the military history of the United States, many remarkable and brave soldiers have committed to safeguarding their country. Although every man in the forces is valuable, some servicemen will still be remembered by everyone for their outstanding service to their homeland. The military ranks its soldiers to highlight and celebrate a man’s triumphs, expertise level, responsibility, and authority, setting an essential hierarchy.
Depending on the soldier’s division, there are numerous ranks; of course, not everyone achieves the most prominent ones. However, in the US military history, some men weren’t exclusively soldiers, and you may even know them for other successful things. Indeed, you’ll be surprised to know that one of the most famous actors in the Hollywood industry was also a high-ranking soldier.
Military forces in the US
The military forces are one of the US’ most important strengths; through their six branches, they defend the nation’s security and protect the different national interests. In addition, the US forces not only perform crucial tasks in their country but also participate in missions overseas to keep peace from any threats to the nation.
Every year, men of all kinds enlist to serve the United States proudly, and many of them prepare years in advance, both physically and mentally, to perform their best. Nevertheless, some citizens joined the United States troops of their own will and desire without hesitation. One of these brave and remarkable gentlemen was Jimmy Stewart, a famous and prominent Hollywood actor in the 1960s.
Getting to know Jimmy Stewart
James “Jimmy” Stewart is mainly acclaimed and remembered for his many successful movies and memorable roles in the golden years of the United States cinema industry. He was an American actor and a military pilot that had an outstanding career in both fields during his long and productive life. Jimmy has one of the most prominent careers in Hollywood, with 80 films he starred in between 1935 and 1991.
He also had the pleasure to work along with other iconic stars of that day, and with his charisma and commitment to helping others, he’s still one of the most beloved actors that America has ever had. But before digging into Stewart’s experience and achievements in the military service, it’s essential to know more about who he was and his life.
On a day like May 20, 1908, James Maitland Stewart was born in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and had two younger sisters, Virginia and Mary, which made him an only child. His parents, Elizabeth and Alexander Stewart, had an interesting background, with both Scotch-Irish and Scottish roots. His father owned a hardware store meant to be run by Jimmy, and his mother was a pianist, so he was in contact with music and instruments early in life.
Regarding his personality, Stewart used to be a shy and quiet child that spent his free time developing models of airplanes as well as some other mechanical drawings. Even as a kid, he was passionate about the aviation world for many years before joining the Air Force. As a teenager, he attended a prestigious school that prepared him for Princeton University, one of the world’s most renowned schools.
At Princeton, he studied a major in Architecture and excelled in academic performance; his passion for airplanes became more extensive, and his final thesis was designing an airport terminal. Yet, while he was still in college, Stewart showed interest and joined the drama and music clubs which approached him more to pursue an acting career. After graduating, he moved to New York City and got minor roles on Broadway; from that moment, his career was boosted and never stopped.
A wonderful Hollywood career
It wasn’t until 1935 that a significant opportunity arrived for Jimmy; he signed his first important acting contract with MGM studios and started his successful film career. His first notable role was as a co-star in the famous movie “Born To Dance” with Eleanor Powell, another prominent figure within the industry. However, the film “You Can’t Take It With You” led him to stardom as it was nominated for and won an Academy Award for best movie. But it wasn’t until 1940 when he took home the long-awaited Oscar for his fantastic role in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
Jimmy acted in around 81 films throughout his 50-year career; these works also included musicals, dramas, and comedies, all of which he did before and after enlisting in the military. In addition, he also got the marvelous opportunity to work with other Hollywood superstars like Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, Margaret Sullavan, Jean Harlow, and many more massive and talented fellow actors. Stewart worked hard to make his way in the acting field, but his natural talent, humility, and charisma made him one of the most beloved and greatest American actors.
Personal life and death
Regarding his personal and romantic life, James had many affairs and relationships with gorgeous Hollywood women throughout his career. The fact that he dated many stunning girls is not a surprise since he was a handsome man with a thriving career. However, Stewart surprisingly remained single until his forties because it is said that he wasn’t prepared to settle down before. That’s why the media called him the “Great American Bachelor” for a long time until he married.
James met the love of his life in 1947 during a Christmas party; her name was Gloria Hatrick, a former model with two sons. Even though their first encounter wasn’t exactly pleasing because he was drunk, the couple started dating and eventually got married. Jimmy and Gloria had two twin daughters, and he adopted Glorias’ two sons from her last marriage. The Stewart family lived happily for years until Gloria passed away in 1994 due to lung cancer, an event that left Jimmy deeply depressed.
After his wife’s death, Jimmy’s health went into decline, and according to friends, he felt lost and became lonely. He barely went out of the house, spending most of his time in his bedroom and going out to see his children. Later, in 1997, he had a pulmonary embolism due to thrombosis in his right leg, which eventually caused a heart attack. Sadly, he died at 89 on July 2, 1997at his Beverly Hills house in Los Angeles, surrounded by family and loved ones. Stewart’s funeral was memorable; it included full military honors due to his role in the military, and of course, many celebrities and special friends showed up to pay their respects.
Stewart’s thriving military career
James Stewart, “Jimmy,” was already a big screen star when he decided to become a military hero in uniform and go to the battlefield. He was the first notable Hollywood actor that enrolled in the United States Army during the World War II outbreak. But how exactly did he come up with the idea of joining the military forces, and what were his reasons for doing it? Let’s figure it out.
A family background in the military
A curious fact about James is that some of his relatives also had a military service background in the US Army. Jimmy’s third grandfather served in the Revolutionary War, and Jimmy’s maternal grandfather was a general during the Civil War period. Equally, his father battled in two significant wars; the Spanish-American and World War I. It’s as if he somehow was meant to be part of the military service since he was born, or maybe it’s just a coincidence; who knows?
The Call to Serve: Jimmy’s Initial Military Aspirations
It was 1941 when Jimmy decided to put his film career on hold for a bit and give the army a shot. This decision was probably encouraged by the onset of US participation in World War II, in which the United States needed its soldier’s support more than ever. Interestingly, this wasn’t the actor’s first application for military service. A while ago, he tried to join the forces, but he was rejected because of his underweight; he was 10 pounds below the allowed weight. Nevertheless, as he wanted to be accepted, he committed himself to adjusting his eating to gain more weight and be able to apply again.
Journey Through the Air: Stewart’s Passion for Aviation
Luckily, the US army finally admitted Stewart in 1941 after winning his first Oscar for best actor. From that moment, Jimmy made history by becoming the first Hollywood actor enlisted in the United States military service. After being accepted, he was around 33 years and wanted to be part of the Aviation cadet training, but the only problem was that he was over the allowed age limit. Alternatively, he applied to become a licensed pilot for the Air Corps; this was perfect for him as he already had some pilot experience thanks to his passion for aviation.
Duty Beyond the Screen: Prioritizing Service Over Stardom
After enlisting, it’s worth mentioning that by Jimmy’s choice, his television and public appearances were exclusively for Air Force-related matters. He wanted to focus on his duty, and although he valued his acting career, he didn’t want it to be a distraction or impediment to protecting his homeland. So, as he only cared about his military service, he successfully finished his pilot training and was named a flight instructor. After some time in that role, he was eventually sent to England in 1943, becoming the B-24’s bomber squadron leader.
Recognition and Valor: Stewart’s Combat Achievements
Later, in 1944, when he had already flown over Germany in 20 dangerous combat missions, he received two medals because of his success in those events. The Air Forces awarded him two Distinguished Flying Cross medals and the Croix de Guerre, a French honor to reward men’s bravery during both World Wars. By 1945, James rose through the ranks to colonel, positioning him as one of the few American men named so quickly from private to colonel in only four years. In September of that same year, he also went home as an outstanding and decorated hero, making his nation and fans prouder than ever.
Life after WWII and retiring
Although he returned home by the end of World War II, he didn’t quit the army; indeed, he continued his duty, but this time in the Air Forces Reserve. With a thriving performance within his position, Stewart was promoted to Brigadier General in 1959; this honor made Jimmy the highest-ranking actor in US military history. In addition, as if it wasn’t enough, then-president Ronald Reagan granted him the Medal of Freedom, the highest award someone can receive in the US.
Despite an extraordinary career serving his country, in 1968, James retired at age 60 from the Air Force after 27 years of service. Upon Jimmy’s retirement, he not only participated in WWII but also during the Vietnam War, flying as a non-duty observer. Additionally, in 1945 Stewart was a founder of the Air Force Association, whose aim is promoting and supporting the Air and Space Forces to protect US interests and heritage.
Summarize about the highest-ranking actor in military history in US
Although Jimmy passed away many years ago, his legacy is admired as he was one of the most talented American actors and bravest military heroes. Everyone who got to know him always said he had excellent values; he was a hard-working man and a loyal citizen. James thrived in his Hollywood career and was also such a patriot that he was pleased to serve his country. Without targeting it, he made history by becoming the United States highest-ranking actor.
He was a fantastic man, both personally and professionally; money and fame weren’t the most important things for him. The proof is that although Jimmy had everything someone could ever wish for, he left his comfort zone to support his homeland, which is impressive and admirable. James was a unique and remarkable human with an extraordinary life full of adventures, and hopefully, as an airplane lover, he earned his much-desired wings in the afterlife.