20 February 1966

Brigadier General James M. Stewart, United States Air Force Reserve, 1968. (Bettmann/CORBIS)

20 February 1966: Brigadier General James M. Stewart, United States Air Force Reserve, flew the last combat mission of his military career, a 12 hour, 50 minute “Arc Light” bombing mission over Vietnam, aboard Boeing B-52 Stratofortress of the 736th Bombardment Squadron, 454th Bombardment Wing. His bomber was a B-52F-65-BW, serial number 57-149, call sign GREEN TWO. It was the number two aircraft in a 30-airplane bomber stream.

A Boeing B-52F-65-BW Stratofortress, 57-0144, drops bombs during an Arc Light strike. (U.S. Air Force)

The aircraft commander was Captain Bob Amos, and co-pilot, Captain Lee Meyers. Other crew members were Captain Irby Terrell, radar navigator, Captain Kenny Rahn, navigator, and technical Sergeant Demp Johnson, gunner.

Brigadier General James M. ("Jimmy") Stewart, USAFR (center) with the crew of B-52F Stratofortress 57-149, at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, 20 February 1966. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General James M. (“Jimmy”) Stewart, USAFR (center) with the crew of B-52F Stratofortress 57-149, at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, 20 February 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

Jimmy Stewart was a successful Hollywood actor. He had an interest in aviation since childhood, and he earned a private pilot license in 1935, then upgraded to a commercial license in 1938. He owned his own airplane, a Stinson 105, and frequently flew it across the country to visit his family.

Stewart enlisted as a private in the United States Army 22 March 1941, just three weeks after winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in “The Philadelphia Story.” Military records show that he had brown hair and blue eyes, was 6 feet, 3 inches tall, and weighed 145 pounds (65.8 kilograms).

James M. Stewart enlists as a private in the United States Army, 22 March 1941. (Los Angeles Times)
James M. Stewart enlists as a private in the United States Army, 22 March 1941. (Los Angeles Times)

Because of his college education and experience as a pilot, Corporal Stewart was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, 19 January 1942. He was assigned as an instructor pilot at Mather Field, near Sacramento, California.

Corporal James M. Stewart was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, at Moffett Field, California, 19 January 1942. (AP)
Corporal James M. Stewart was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, at Moffett Field, California, 19 January 1942. (AP)

Stewart was promoted to first lieutenant 7 July 1942. Stewart was next assigned as a pilot at the Bombardier School at Kirtland Army Air Field, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

First Lieutenant James M. Stewart, USAAF, (third from left) as a pilot at the Training Command Bombardier School, Kirkland AAF, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant James M. Stewart, USAAF, (third from left) as a pilot at the Training Command Bombardier School, Kirtland AAF, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1942. (U.S. Air Force) Update: The first student on the left has been identified as John M. “Jack” Drenan. 1st Lieutenant Drenan, a B-24 bombardier, was listed as Missing in Action on a mission to the Marshall Islands, 2 January 1944. Thanks to Mr. Patrick E. Freudenthal for the information.

After transition training in the B-17 Flying Fortress, Lieutenant Stewart was assigned as as an instructor at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho. On 9 July 1943, Stewart was promoted to captain and given command of a training squadron.

Concerned that his celebrity status would keep him in “safe” assignments, Jimmy Stewart had repeatedly requested a combat assignment. His request was finally approved and he was assigned as operations officer of the 703rd Bombardment Squadron, 445th Bombardment Group, a B-24 Liberator unit soon to be sent to the war in Europe. Three weeks later, he was promoted to commanding officer of the 703rd.

Captain James M. Stewart, USAAF, (standing, fourth from left) commanding officer, 703rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 445th Bombardment Group (Heavy), with his squadron officers and a B-24 Liberator long-range heavy bomber, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain James M. Stewart, USAAF, (standing, fourth from left) commanding officer, 703rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 445th Bombardment Group (Heavy), with his squadron officers and a B-24 Liberator long-range heavy bomber, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

The 445th Bombardment Group arrived in England on 23 November 1943, and after initial operational training, was stationed at RAF Tibenham, Norfolk, England. The unit flew its first combat mission on 13 December 1943, with Captain Stewart leading the high squadron of the group formation in an attack against enemy submarine pens at Kiel, Germany. On his second mission, Jimmy Stewart led the entire 445th Group.

Ford B-24H-1-FO Liberator 42-7563, “Hell’s Warrior,” 701st Bombardment Squadron, 445th Bombardment Group. (American Air Museum in Britain)
Captain James M. Stewart, 8th Air Force, circa December 1943. (Imperial War Museum)

On 20 January 1944, Stewart was promoted to major, and served as deputy commander of the 2nd Bombardment Wing during a series of missions known as “Big Week.” He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Major James M. Stewart, USAAF, Group Operations Officer, 453rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), RAF Old Buckenham, 1944.
Major James M. Stewart, USAAF, Group Operations Officer, 453rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), RAF Old Buckenham, 1944.

Major Stewart was next assigned as Group Operations Officer of the 453rd Bombardment Wing at RAF Old Buckenham. He assigned himself to fly the lead B-24 in the group’s missions against Germany until he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, 3 June 1944, and assigned as executive officer of the 2nd Bombardment Wing. In this position he flew missions with the 445th, 453rd, 389th Bomb Groups, and with units of the 20th Combat Bomb Wing.

After being promoted to the rank of Colonel on 29 March 1945, he was given command of the 2nd Bombardment Wing. He had risen from Private to Colonel in four years. He received a second Distinguished Flying Cross and was presented the Croix de Guerre avec Palme by France.

Lieutenant Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, executive officer, 2nd Bombardment Wing, post mission, 23 July 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, executive officer, 2nd Bombardment Wing, post mission, 23 July 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant General Henri Valin, Chief of Staff, French Air Force, awards the Croix de Guerre avec Palme to Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant General Henri Valin, Chief of Staff, French Air Force, awards the Croix de Guerre avec Palme to Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, 29 January 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

Following World War II, Jimmy Stewart remained in the U.S. Army Air Forces as a Reserve Officer, and with the United States Air Force after it became a separate service in 1947. Colonel Stewart commanded Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Marietta, Georgia. In 1953, his wartime rank of colonel was made permanent, and on 23 July 1959, Jimmy Stewart was promoted to Brigadier General.

During his active duty periods, Colonel Stewart remained current as a pilot of Convair B-36 Peacemaker, Boeing B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress intercontinental bombers of the Strategic Air Command.

"Actor James Stewart, (right), a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, arrives at Loring Air Force Base, here on July 8th, for his annual two-week tour of active duty. Stewart is being greeted by Brigadier General William K. Martin, (center), Commander of the 45th Air Division. While at Loring, the actor will be given a pilot refresher course in flying the B-52 heavy bomber." (©Bettman/CORBIS)
“Actor James Stewart, (right), a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, arrives at Loring Air Force Base, here on July 8th, for his annual two-week tour of active duty. Stewart is being greeted by Brigadier General William K. Martin, (center), Commander of the 45th Air Division. While at Loring, the actor will be given a pilot refresher course in flying the B-52 heavy bomber.” (Bettman/CORBIS)

James Stewart was one of America’s most successful film actors. He made a number of aviation films , such as “No Highway in the Sky,” “Strategic Air Command,” “The Spirit of St. Louis”and “The Flight of the Phoenix.”

James Stewart on te set of "Strategic Air Command" at Carswell AFB, Texas, 1955. Stewart, a colonel in teh U.S. Air Force Reserve, portrayed "Colonel Dutch Holland" a reserve officer recalled to active duty with SAC during the Cold War.
James Stewart on the set of “Strategic Air Command” at Carswell AFB, Texas, 1955. Stewart, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, portrayed “Colonel Dutch Holland,” a reserve officer recalled to active duty with SAC during the Cold War.

During his military service, Brigadier General James Maitland Stewart was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster (two awards); the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters; the Distinguished Service Medal; and the Croix de Guerre avec Palme (France).

General Stewart retired from the U.S. Air Force on 1 June 1968 after 27 years of service.

Arc Light. (United States Air Force 110310-F-XN622-001)

Jimmy Stewart died of a heart attack at his home in Beverly Hills, 2 July 1997, at the age of 89 years. He is buried at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

177 thoughts on “20 February 1966

  1. Not too long ago, an autobiography of President Harry S. Truman was entitled “The Last of His Kind.” The same could truly be said of B.Gen. Jimmy Stewart. Always conscious of his status in the eyes of many, he eschewed safe or desk jobs, maintaining currency in the latest aircraft and flying in combat along with his men. Those of us who served in SAC greatly admired him, as we also did Col. Thomas Ferebee, the bombardier of the Enola Gay, who served as our Maintenance Commander (DCM) at Turner AFB, GA many years ago. The guys who flew with him on his last Arc Light mission out of Guam in 1965 were pretty impressed also.

    1. Thank you, Major Detjen. I always admired General Stewart, both as a great actor and as a dedicated military officer. And Thank YOU, Sir, for stopping by and taking a look at my blog. I hope that you liked it, and will come back soon. Any comments that you have will be most welcome. — Bryan Swopes

      1. A great article about a great American. I would watch Strategic Air Command every time it came on. As a brat growing up on SAC bases, I loved the times my dad would take me down to the flightline. To this day, I will be 60 this year, I can still vividly recall every aspect of getting to go down in a LCF at Whiteman AFB. My heroes growing up were cowboys and SAC pilots. Got to do some cowboying later on, didn’t have the vision to be a pilot or the sense to get the education it required. To this day, I still feel saddened when they redesignated the various commands. The name SAC, the logo with the clenched arrows and the motto, “Peace is our profession”, was a tribute to all the personnel who served.

        1. My dad at Whiteman AND in the ’50s. I graduated from Knob Noster in 1960.My Air Force assignments included Schilling AFB,KS (310th BW’SAC), Tachikawa AB, Japan, Grand Forks AFB, ND (319thB.W.-SAC), TanSonut, Vietnam (7th AF) and Kirtland AFB, NM (before called Sandia Base). I watched “Strategic Air Command” many times and I also watched another movie about “ORI’s that sent shivers up my spine in that I was involved in many of them. I very much enjoyed this story and I thank the writer. I did not know General Stewart flew “ArcLight” missions over Vietnam. I was responsible for publishing “The 7thAF Weekly Air and Ground Intelligence Summary” in the ’70s.

      2. Brig. Gen. Stewart retired from the Air Force Reserve on 1 June 1968, same day my dad did from the Air Force from a different base. He also made the movie “The Glenn Miller Story”.

        1. That was the week I entered USAF basic training at Lackland , I always admired Jimmy Stewart and counted him as my favorite actor

        2. I got off active Naval Air duty the very same day in 1968 Brig. General Stewart retired from the Air Force. Small world, and I remember it well.

        3. I was commissioned as a 2nd Lt in the USAF the day Jimmy retired. Loved all his movies and even today, many consider him the most admired actor of all time – stark contrast to the so called “stars” we have today in Hollywood.

      3. Thank you for keeping alive the memory of James M Stewart. Such an accomplished man who loved his country and led by example in both public life and military service. What an inspiration he was to many.

    2. Derek Detjen…don’t know if you remember the boom operator who was your back door neighbor in Haughton, LA 1981-1982…I retired as Lt Col Bill Roberts in 2002. I ended up flying F-15Cs my whole officer career…only got to refuel off my old tanker squadron once, but it was fun…hope you’re doing well. Cheers, “Oral” Roberts

      1. Glad to see that you did well after leaving the enlisted ranks. I too was a boom operator at KBAD from 1979-1990. I moved into the KC-10 in ’84.
        Sorry that I don’t remember you but there were a lot of great people in all three of those tanker squadrons.
        I went into the Reserve in 1990 and then back on Active Duty in 2002 and retired in 2004 up in Portland, Oregon. 30 years was a long time to wear a green bag but I enjoyed it.
        Brad Baxter, SMSgt USAF Ret

        1. Brad Baxter, I remember you as a boom operator from BAFB with the KC-10’s in the early 80’s. Larry was a flight engineer and you flew on a few flights together. Larry and I used to wonder what happened with your life after leaving BAFB. Good to kn ow you’re alive and hopefully doing well.

        2. Small world – Brad – I remember YOU and those great days and great bunch of guys at KBAD…. I retired in ’91 from the 10 and went to Delta, retired and living in Kilgore, TX….. Take care Bud — Skate

    3. No actors or actresses could hold a candle to Jimmy Stewart for as long as he served. I know during WWII there were a lot of actors & actresses involved (but they only did their time during WWII). Jimmy on the other hand I think loved to fly & he knew that his experience would be very valuable to the up & coming aircrews for whatever aircraft he was put in charge of for training the new pilots & crews. Another actress that should have a similar story is Martha Raye, as she was also an accomplished nurse & in the reserves as a Sgt. Major in the USMC and she also held the honorary rank of Col. in the Army for assisting in watching over wounded troops at forward M.A.S.H. units during the Korean War & again in Vietnam.

      1. John Wayne always held Gen. Stewart in the highest regard, professionally and personally because of his service. He never hesitated to say so when asked.

        1. I loved watching Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne movies. They worked together on the Duke’s last movie, “The Shootist” with Ron Howard. (1976) It’s a really good movie.

          1. Jimmy Stewart made so many really good movies that it’s near impossible to name a favorite, but I’ll try. My fave Western would be “The Man From Laramie.” Both “Spirit of St. Louis” and “Strategic Air Command” greatly influenced my eventual career choices, but I really liked “No Highway in the Sky,” co-starring the wonderful Glynis Johns. I laughed all the way through “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation.” All-time favorite? A tie: “Rear Window” with Grace Kelly, and “Vertigo” with Kim Novak.

    4. I was TDY for three years after finishing Radar Bomb Scoring School Biloxi MS. Working at Ironwood, MI, McAlester, OK, Brush Creek MO, Sydney NE, Oaks North Dakota, St. Cloud Minnesota, Cheyenne Wyoming where I scored many of you great pilots of the USAF, including Brigadier General James Maitland Stewart.
      Do and of you remember the two B52 that crashed at Ironwood MI 30 days apart both from Carswell AFB – 19th Air Division; B52s. If I remember correctly there were 4 survivors from those crashes , it would have been in 1961.
      I just want to thank all of you for your service!

      1. The bombers that crashed southwest of the Ironwood Bomb Plot were B-47’s. At the time of those tragedies I was a student pilot, learning to fly out of Houghton Michigan airport. I was in AFROTC at the time and had a great interest in Air Force flying. On a cross country to Ironwood shortly after the second crash I took a little detour down to where the crash site was. Didn’t see anything because of newly fallen snow.

    5. As the widow of a Vietnam Vet who fought in N Vietnam as gunner on quad 50 maybe Col Stewart helped to bring him home. I know he watched movies with Jimmy Stewart and hope he knew of his service to country

  2. Great write up. Some I knew, the rest I did not. If the war had lasted 30 more days he would have made BG and on his own merits. What a man.

    Hap Arnold, LTC, USAF CA ANG, Retired
    Phantom Pilot

  3. I prefer a combat veteran as President.
    A man who has gone in harm’s way will probably not lightly send others there.

    I knew that General Stewart was a combat veteran of World War II, and I knew that he lost a son in Vietnam, but this article is the first that I heard that General Stewart had done anything in Vietnam.

    A brave man, a modest man, and a great actor.

    We need his kind today.

    1. I truly loved reading about this great man. I have seen so many of his movies, but never knew about his outstanding military record. This was a great and blessed read for me. Thanks to all of you Military men and women for jobs well done!!????????God Bless All!!!!

      1. 1st Lieutenant Ronald Walsh McLean, Company A, 3d Reconnaissance Battalion, 3d Marine Division, United States Marine Corps, was killed in action while on a reconnaissance mission in Quang Tri Province, 8 June 1969. He was awarded the Silver Star (posthumously):

        The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Silver Star (Posthumously) to First Lieutenant Ronald W. McLean (MCSN: 0-105587), United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving with Company A, Third Reconnaissance Battalion, THIRD Marine Division in connection with combat operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam. On 8 June 1969, First Lieutenant McLean’s six-man reconnaissance team was patrolling eleven miles northwest of the Vandegrift Combat Base in Quang Tri Province when it became heavily engaged with an enemy force. Realizing the Marines needed a more tenable position, First Lieutenant McLean unhesitatingly exposed himself to the hostile rounds impacting around him and fired his M-79 grenade launcher into the midst of the enemy, killing two hostile soldiers and enabling his team to maneuver to a more defensible position. After the dead soldiers had been searched and the team had retrieved documents of intelligence value, the Marines were attacked by a platoon-sized hostile force. Reacting immediately, First Lieutenant McLean fired his grenade launcher at the enemy and killed five more hostile solders. Observing one of his men fall wounded, he boldly ignored the hostile rounds directed at him to give medical assistance to his comrade. As he was rendering first aid to the injured man, he alertly observed a hostile soldier preparing to fire on their position. Completely disregarding his own safety, he shoved his companion down and was mortally wounded by the enemy fire. His bold initiative and heroic efforts inspired all who observed him and accounted for eight enemy soldiers killed. By his courage, aggressive leadership and steadfast devotion to duty, First Lieutenant McLean upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.

        1. Another Marine Roger See went out to help Lt McLean and brought him back to safety however he did succumb to his injuries. Roger See rallied the rest of the Marines all through the night even though he himself had numerous injuries and for his service Roger See was awarded the Navy Cross.

    2. Hitler, Churchill, Lincoln all saw active combat early in their lives. They never thought twice about sending others in harm’s way.

  4. Thank you for, yet again, for another great article. Jimmy Stewart was such a modest man, given the life he lived off and on screen. An example for us all.

    1. Thank you very much, Matthew. I think that he was an outstanding example of “the greatest generation.” I am old enough to have seen “The Spirit of St. Louis” and “Strategic Air Command” in their first runs, and they undoubtedly inspired my own interest in aviation. Jimmy Stewart also sits at the top of my personal favorite actors list. Whether it was comedy, drama, suspense, Western, he always put in a first-rate performance, and his movies are so watchable, even today. “Rear Window,” “Vertigo,” “The Man From Laramie,” “Bell, Book and Candle,” “The Shop Around the Corner,” were all great examples of his work. And so few new of his military service.

  5. Wow such interesting info that we had never read about..I lived in the Caswell Maine just until I married and lived about 9 miles from the former Loring Air Force Base and we had B 52’s fly over our house regularly..loved watching the big birds fly over and miss it today..Last year we had the privilege od seeing a B52 do 2 fly overs on the now closed base at an open house…very sad to see such a once beautiful Armed Force Community look so run down..but happy to know of Mr. Stewarts history in the Air Force.. My late husband and I loved watching all of his movies..he is a great legend that will live on for many decades to come…Thank You for sharing this with us..God Bless..

  6. Very interesting history of a great actor and military member. There is another story behind his name. There was a member on active duty that had the same name as him. He was kept from being promoted to General because those responsible thought he was the movie actor. I forget how many times he was passed over because of this until it was brought to everyone’s attention it was not the movie actor Stewart that they were trying to promote. I believe he finally retired at a Lt General at WPAFB. OH.

  7. I admired James Stuart as an actor but now learning about his military career proves just how gifted a man he became

  8. I am a retired Army Reserve Colonel – always admired BG Stewart both as an actor and military member. Did not know his complete history of his service. He was an inspiration to a lot of people. Thanks for sharing – great read.

  9. Excellant article. Lots of great research had to happen to write this much detail. Thank you for such detail.

  10. Hi Bryan,
    Fantastic article–thanks for writing about this true American legend. I continue to enjoy Jimmy Stewart’s films, the military ones of course but also westerns. I did not know that he served in 2nd Bomb Wing 8th AF — so did I years later. One of the most touching things that he did was write a book of poems in the late 1980s. One of the poems was a tribute to his favorite dog, Beau I think, and it helped me greatly get over the loss of my dog. I wrote to Jimmy and got a nice letter back. A true gentleman.

    1. True, that. I’ve always loved Jimmy Stewart, my first exposure to him in It’s a Wonderful Life, and it grew more with Harvey, Rear Window, and Vertigo, but this? Priceless. I didn’t even know he’d lost a son in ‘Nam, either. Only story I knew of just how humble he really was: when he’d won an Oscar, I think his dad had a little tailoring shop and dry cleaners in Cincinnati, and he’d sent that back home to sit in the shop window for the public to see it.

      Definitely need more of his kind today, and those around today couldn’t hold a candle to his service, both on and off-screen. A giant talent. And a fantastic man overall. Just more reason to admire him.

  11. Many thanks for bringing this wonderful information about this unforgettable man who married late in life to his beautiful Gloria.I remember seeing him on TV.a few times and how captivating and humble he was.Saw him reading some of his poetry on the Johnny Carson show which showed his sense of humor also.Will buy it on Amazon where it is for sale.Love you Jimmy.

  12. May 29, 1965, in Indianapolis, Indiana, General Stewart, swore myself and 128 other men into the US Air Force. We then was flown to Lackland AFB, to start a career in the USAF.

  13. Wonderful actor and courageous pilot to…I belive he once flew an assembly ship virtually all the way on a mission much to the annoyance of his commanding officers

  14. I was stationed in Saigon when BGen Jimmy Stewart flew his last Combat Mission over Vietnam. Having heard about his Military Career before, I was surprised to hear about his last Combat Mission over Vietnam

  15. Jimmy Stewart, was a great man, and a patriot. Great article, thank you. Gen Stewart also flew another bomber, the B-58 Husler, and he took it supersonic. I have a VHS documentary on the B-58 narrated by him, that shows him flying it.

  16. i do remember Jimmy Stuart was pilot in the USAF however I do not remember his role in Vietnam! I guess because of the very terrible times surrounding it, or I should say the terrible lies surrounding that time. What a pity! However, this article will be shared with many people who will see the truth! Thank you, Bryan for your wonderful article and all the comments. It has given me great hope for our country and our world to know there are young people who are living examples of courage and finding truth! I am old, (86) and lived through this time! Part of it as a child, teenager, and later an adult. I had an uncle who was on the Enterprise for the entire Pacific battle and I later married my husband (deceased) who was with 8th in England! God bless you, again, Bryan, and all commentators on this thread!

  17. Great article….”Jimmy Stewart, Bomber Pilot”…..is a must read for all of his fans….

    As many have observed, a very modest man…..

  18. Great man . I think Hollywood should make a movie about him . But i don’t think they can find actor good enough to play him . God sure broke the mold when he made him .

    1. I don’t think anyone would take on the project of a Stewart biographical movie right now. It would shame too many in Hollyweird….

  19. Considering that James Stewart was 58 years old in 1966 and had retired from the reserves in 1959, why would he have flown such a mission in 1966?

  20. Admired by many, James Stewart was excellent at most everything he did for good reason. They just don’t make them like that anymore.

  21. Thank you so much for this article. I had never heard of Jimmy Stewart’s military background. Now I’m an even greater admirer.

  22. Where have all the real stars gone? Jimmy Steward and many others of that time were Stars and Heroes. There damn sure are damn few in Hollywood or in the Media now.

  23. In all of Stewarts on camera interviews involving his military missions his stipulation was that he be referred to only as James Stewart and never Jimmie Stewart.

  24. Many years ago while visiting my niece at Wendover, Can, we walked through the old WendoverAir Force Base and we saw an old officers billet with a plaque stating it was the billet of Johnathon C Tibbets who was the pilot of the Enola Gay.

  25. A large number of commentators here served their country in the military, one branch or another. I am Canadian, but I wish to thank you all for your service. God bless you all.

  26. I served with the 93rd BW at Castle AFB, CA from 1983-85.. I remember 93rd Life Support had a framed photograph of then-Colonel Stewart going through the line to get his gear in about 1958. I wonder what happened to it when the base closed?

  27. Thank you!!! I have always loved Jimmy Stewart as an actor and knew he served but not too the extent you described. I am a daughter of a ww2 vet and am married to a Vietnam vet. Thank you for this insightful article!!!

  28. Great insight to one America’s finest products. He is all that so many see as a need for our country today. We need more of this and ‘Mr. Smith goes to Washington” types to get us going in the right direction. Thanks for sharing all the wonderful comments about a real life HERO!!!!

  29. Thank you for ensuring the legacy of the Greatest Generation lives on. My grandfather flew B-17s during the War, and my last two tours in the Army were spent in the Pentagon as a research analyst looking for missing WWII aviators lost over Europe and Asia. Another great of that era, in similar circumstances as Brig Gen Stewart, was Maj Glenn Miller, for whom I wrote the first official DoD report on his loss. Great men and women certainly comprised the Greatest Generation. Thank you for helping to ensure their immortality and legacy.

  30. Great man! I think he must have been stationed at RAF Tibenham when he was a guest at my grandparents home. Wish I had asked them for more details of the visit and they didn’t even take a photo!

  31. Thanks for the information regarding BG Jimmy Stewart, Bryan. As a Royal Canadian Air Force brat I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s where fighter and bomber pilots were my heroes.

    I remember talking with my father about Jimmy Stewart and one of the things that my Dad said was that Jimmy wasn’t just a pilot but that he was a leader. One who lead from the front whenever possible and sometimes much to the chagrin of his superior officers (in rank only). His men looked up to and respected him for that! He was never considered as a “desk jockey”!!

    It’s really unfortunate that so many of today’s “leaders” are too busy managing their own careers instead of those who are under their supervision.

    Jimmy Stewart was a heck of a man. We really need more of his kind right now.

  32. Served in Okinawa 1969-1970.Flew with the 306 Bomb Wing SAC during Arc Light. Never knew I was in such special company.

  33. Jimmy Stewart is my uncle (my mother’s brother), Mr. Swopes and all who have written in, thank you from our whole family.

  34. I served in the Air Force 1960 – 1964 , stationed Lincoln AFB. SAC command. Loaded nuclear weapons on B-47s . In my opinion the prettiest airplane ever built. Oh. And what a bomb it carried. It was huge. Jimmy Stewart was one of favorite actors an I great respect for him.

  35. I knew these stories about Jimmy Stewart because I grew up in his home town, Indiana, PA. His father had a hardware store. When he came home, I a grade school child andmy older brother went with our father to the store and began to play catch with a football.
    At some point it was intercepted by a large pair of hands and it was Jimmy, home from the war. What I remember most was his returning at the end of the war the small towns people wanted to hold a parade in his honor. Being the gentleman he was he refused to agree citing all the other military men and women serving equal to his own participation. I held on to that football for a long time.

  36. My late father col joseph Anastasia was a B36 commander at loring AFB 1958, then transitioned into the B52 at Loring AFB, Gen Stewart and all of the others of the greatest generation are going fast, if you know anyone of this generation who has a story, have them write it down or tape . Call timeless voices .org or library of congress and let them know before all of this generation passes away. God Bless our Military men and women.

  37. Great article! Gen. Stewart is a truly inspirational figure…my father-in-law (1st Lt Douglas Ward) few B-17s but he loved to fly the B-26 and flew them on 43 missions over the “Hump” into China (awarded 3 Bronze Stars which he never mentioned) and was one of only eight pilots in his squadron of 28 to return. He never talked about his service and after finishing his time as a flight instructor at Maffit, he hung his uninform in his mother’s closet and rarely mentioned the War. It is important for articles like this to be written so we don’t forget this critical time in our history and the sacrifice of so many–especially those like Stewart who had a “good life”!

  38. I was in the Air Force in Viet Nam in February ’66. My group provided the intell for those B-52 bomb runs. Didn’t know until just now that one of my heroes was on one of those runs. How cool is that

  39. I was in the 173d ABN BDE during the time of this flight. No guarantee that it was Gen Stewart’s flight, but we were held before attacking a VC unit until after the B-52s completed their run. Close enough that was unbelievably LOUD. God Bless Jimmy Stewart. He was a hero in every way.

  40. Member of 20th Special Ops Sqdn 67-68. What a blessing it has been to serve with the PONYS, and to see them at the reunions.

  41. Always loved the many James Stewart movies! Never knew about his Military career and what a Hero he was as a True Patriot that loved being a USAF Pilot and advancing to the rank of General! He probably saved a lot of lives during his missions! A very humble & heroric man! I would love to see a film about his life someday of such a Heroric Patriot & Greatest Actor of all time! Thank You So Much for Sharing!

  42. I was a student in the same squadron with Jimmy at Mather Field May-June ’42. I was not his student but I flew formation with him a few times. Great soldier, great pilot, great actor, great man! Orville C. Rogers. Army Air Corps. Class of 42=E

  43. We kept 10 or 15 B-47 on rotation on Guam from Mt Home AFB, Idaho, Jan 1964 we returned to Mt Home with planes. They brought B-52’s in. It’s possible Jimmy flew one of those 52’s bombing viet nam

  44. This was a fantastic read!! I too, loved James Stewart!! I was born in 1942 and grew up watching all his movies and still love them all!! I am also a WWII buff and love flying. I have been a private pilot for many years and enjoy all WWII history. And this was our greatest generation!! This country will never be same as it was after WWII! Thanks for this wonderful read on a great American!!

  45. Cheers for all the well deserved comments about Jimmy Stewart. I would like to add that all the Pilots and their crews were brave beyond words as their casualty rate was brutal in particularly the European Theater where it took 25 missions to get you back home and then later increased to 35. This included the 8th Air Force from the U.K. and the 7th Air Force flying from Italy over Austria/ Germany. Never knowing on each mission whether you would retun!

  46. General Jimmy Stewart was one of the reasons I joined the Air Force In 1966. I retired in 1987 as a MSGT. I spent 1 year in Viet Nan at Cam Rahm Bay. He is still my hero, (Except for my dad, WWII.)

  47. I have read the book his daughter has written Last of the GREAT GENERATION and patriots I get the feeling His love for Country Flying and a true patriot were first and his acting second As a fellow pilot I salute you and as we say in Polish STOLAT

  48. I never realized the extended of the flying experience of General Jimmy Stewart in WW11 Korea, and Vietnam I read for the 1st time of him losing a son in combat. Hats off to the men and woman past, presence and future who served to keep us free. I served in the Army D Btry west of Loring from Jan. ’57 to Sept. ’58. in ch. 13 of my book Events available on Amazon, I detail the day we went into Red Alert.

  49. He and my father were on the same Brigadier General list. Sen MargaretChaseSmith of Maine held up his promotion because she thought he was promoted because of his Hollywood stardom. What a nitwit!

  50. Little known fact is that Jimmy Stewart’s step son served as an US Marine Corps Infantry Officer in Vietnam and was killed in action in June 1969. Google search the Rescue of Recon Team American Beauty. I was involved in the rescue of that recon team and the repatriation of Lt McLean’s body ( Jimmy Stewart’s step son) It wasn’t for may years after that Gen Stewart learned the circumstances of his son’s death, although it had taken a terrible toll on him. I’ve been told that he was never the same after his son’s death. Semper Fidelis



  52. Excellent article. I admired James Stewart as an actor, and serviceman. My Dad served in the Air Force, in Korea, during the Korean War/Police Action. Dad never talked about his service except to say that he was working on cargo aircraft. Jimmy Stewart was a fine example of how people served our country in time of war.
    You, sir, have done, as I stated earlier, and excellent job on this.
    Loved reading all of the comments on your blog also.

    1. Thank you very much, Dave. I am glad that you liked it. The article about General Stewart was originally published two years ago, I believe, though I have “tweaked” it a bit. For the past two years, it has been the single most popular article on This Day in Aviation, having been viewed by about 118,000 people in a 30-day period last year. I have written just under 1,400 posts for TDiA. I hope that you will take a look at some of those, as well. —Bryan

  53. Thank you, Mr. Swopes for honoring Gen. Stewart in your website. I can’t get enough about how courageous and self sacrificing this fine leader and actor was. Integrity in spades!

    Also, I recently read a great new biography about Gen. Stewart’s WW-II experiences. It is called Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe by Robert Matzen. Excellent bio and worth reading.

  54. Bryan I read your work all of the time and love it. I don’t think I have ever seen this many replies to an article. Great work, thank you.

    1. Thanks very much, Ed. This is the sixth year for TDiA, and every year the article on Jimmy Stewart is the most popular. This year, it is really taking off. So far there have been more than 1,000 shares from facebook. (About 60% of TDiA readers access it on fb.) I always try to make improvements before republishing each article. People seem to really like this one.

  55. Tibenham and Old Buck here in the UK are still active airfields and Jimmy is held in high regard at both of them. Tibenham is HQ of the Norfolk Gliding Club, whileOld Buckenham is a small commercial airfield. I fly in and out of both several times a year. Strategic Air Command is a favourite movie of mine – never get tired of watching it. General Stewart was truly a great man – an exemplary flyer and officer, a fine patriot and a superb actor. America should be justly proud of him.

  56. My USAF pilot training began in 1968, the year of Gen. Stewart’s retirement from the Air Force. After earning my wings, I spent a year flying the old AC-47 in Vietnam. One of our airplanes still had coal dust under the floor boards from the Berlin airlift. A visititing officer from the Pentagon flew with our squadron, and found that the plane he was flying that night was the same one he had piloted in N. Africa in WWII.

    After my tour in Vietnam, I was assigned to B-52’s and stationed at McCoy AFB in Orlando. Not long after, I upgraded to Aircraft Commander. In early 1972 our entire squadron took our B-52 D models to Guam on operation “Bullet Shot”, non-stop from Florida to Guam. President Nixon had decided to put maximum pressure on the N Vietnamese to end the war. Soon thereafter we began flying missions against targets in the upper Route Packages in N Vietnam, including one to Haiphong in May of 72. I believe the B-52 played a major role in ending the conflict at the end of 1972, as we conducted 11 nights of 100+ plane raids to bomb strategic targets in and around Hanoi. At the beginning of these missions, we were being targeted by dozens of SAM’s each night. During that brief period, the N Vietnamese fired more than 800 SAM’s and by the end we were able to bomb targets without opposition as their supply of missiles was exhausted, and their airfields, railroads and harbors heavily damaged. I believe the final tally was 19 B-52’s lost to hostile fire. But, the aerial battle against the MiG’s is B-52’s shot down (2), MiG’s shot down (0) B-52’s. Who says the BUFF isn’t a fighter!

    I was not aware of Gen. Stewart’s B-52 flying career, and greatly enjoyed reading this history of not only a fellow SAC man, but a Great American.

  57. I loved jimmy Stewart. My favorite movies are Strategic Air commad and high and mighty. I flew on B-47 and I retired for 35 years as an airline pilot.

    1. A few years back, “The High and the Mighty” (John Wayne, Robert Stack, et al.) was co-released with “Island in the Sky,” which I personally believe was John Wayne’s finest performance. There are too many really excellent Jimmy Stewart movies to choose a favorite, but “Rear Window,” “Vertigo” and “The Man From Laramie” are at the top of my list.

      “Strategic Air Command” has incredible aerial cinematography. Must watch on Blu-ray disc. 🙂

      The Boeing B-47 Stratojet has to be one of the most beautiful airplanes of all time——certainly, the most attractive military aircraft.

  58. I met him when I was 11 or 12,at Tibenham in Norfolk,he had flown in for an anniversary or reunion.A true gentleman,he left a big impression on me.

  59. Dear nephew of Jimmy Stewart, Mr. Bryan R Swopes, Distinguished Aviators, Ladies and Gentlemen,
    What a good read this was, both the article and admirably also in the comments section!
    I have always enjoyed James Stewart as an actor. Now I learned to admire him even more as an aviator and a genuine leader. As a farm boy from Norway, who first soloed 4 months after Brig Gen Stewart quit, I thought maybe he just made a few promotional movies for the Army Air Force over in the UK during WW2, without actually flying with them too much, and here I learn he commanded the whole 445th Group! His super fast promotions during those perilous years says it all. I was proud to be 4-ship lead in fast jets, and participating in a 36 ship formation, lead by others, only once. That, and my 2 MK 82s underwing are dwarfed by the achievements of this true Aviator Gentleman and an Officer, who happened to be a wonderful actor as well. When I really thought I was something, he also flew around the world with 4 more throttles than myself, so I cannot find much to boast about compared to my aviation and acting hero, but for a shared passion for flying! Thanks for a poignant article bringing lots of new information to myself and others.
    Blue Skies to y´all!

  60. Thank you for the fine story about a great American, Jimmy Stewart. I knew he had an Air Force background, but never knew he flew “Arc Light” missions. A brigadier general on a mission like that must have been a rarity and something he requested or arranged himself.

    Thank you for the fascinating blog. I will visit it often.

  61. I had no assignment that caused me to cross paths General Stewart other than I served on a B-52 flight line in a SAC unit somewhere in the Cold War and early Nam. I was aware of his Hollywood and Military careers and also had a military and civilian careers. Both he and I have worn the two hats of a patriot citizen in the Reserves. The USA came close, Thank God we didn’t have to execute in that Nuclear War.

  62. My dad, Major William G. Rigby, was a KC-135 Pilot during the Vietnam Era, stationed at Columbus AFB, Mississippi. wish he was still here to hear his “war stories” again.

  63. There was a very complete, detailed book about Jimmy Stewart’s service during WWII called “Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe” by Robert Matzen and Leonard Maltin. Also, there is the Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, PA, his home town. They’ve got costumes and props from some of his films along with memorabilia from his military service. Well worth a visit if you are in that area.

  64. I have never served in the Military but I so admire all of you who have. Reading many of the comments reminds me of just how special a group most of you are. Your discourse is respectful, courteous, and honorable. I so wish our Country could return to the values you all represent. I want to thank each of you veterans for your service. There are so many of us that care deeply for you and your service. God Speed to you all.

  65. Brigadier General Henry C. Newcomer who retired in 1969 was a personal friend of mine. He was about nine years younger than Stewart but his career appeared to follow a similar path and timeline (including ranks) as General Stewart’s. Does anybody here know if the two knew each other ? Anyone here knew Henry ?

  66. Thank you Bryan for your history lesson. I enlisted in USAF in 1958-1961 attached to 76th Flying Tigers (Tactical Air Command) ended my career at Westover AFB. Under SAC.
    With our F-102’s .
    One fine example of an individual and one of the best Generals.

  67. What a great article! Just happened on this and was amazed BG Stewart flew in Viet Nam. I came of age during that period and my brother was stationed at Zama during the war. Thank you Bryan Swopes for keeping this story alive. You are a patriot!

  68. I just finished reading this wonderful account of Jimmy Stewart’s life…things I never knew about him. Thank you for bringing this information to all the world to see and read. I always loved him as an actor and all his movies, but, I think it was how humble a person he was. You didn’t have to know him to see this in him, he just was and he never changed. Actors today can learn a lot from him. I can’t say enough about him and the enjoyment he brought into my life growing up… and now to know he actually “lived” many of those scenes in his lifetime. A wonderful tribute to him that you have written all this about him to let us know the man he was…and not just the actor he became. Thank you !!!

  69. I thought you might enjoy this little tidbit.
    I had the honor of meeting Mr. Stewart…not once, but twice!
    I am now a retired actress (imdb: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0605030/).
    Long before I became an actress, I was with my father, picking up my mother from a fundraising event in Beverly Hills, California. As we walked into the hall, my father pointed across the room and told me, “There’s your boyfriend!” Puzzled, I realized he was pointing out Jimmy Stewart who happened to be standing next to my mother. Sidebar: like almost everyone else who ever saw him on screen, I had loved his performances which I watched on tv over the years. I dashed over to my mother and said, “Mom, please, introduce me to Mr. Stewart!” “Jimmy, Jimmy,” my mother said, “I’d like to introduce my daughter…”. “Oh, Mr. Stewart,” says I, “I loved you in “Harvey”, but I especially loved you in “It’s a Wonderful Life!” At which point the tall Mr. Stewart bent down, kissed me on my cheek and whispered, “It’s my favorite, too.” I couldn’t have been more excited. Later, I peppered my mother with questions about what was he like. Her answer, “I never spoke to him before in my life. You asked to be introduced, and I introduced you!”
    Later, in the midst of my career, I met him again at two events in the mid 1980s: the Jimmy Stewart National Relay Marathon for Saint John’s Hospital & Health Center, April 13, 1985 and the Beverly Hills St. Patrick’s Day Celebrity Parade.

  70. this comment is for Frank Beyenka, I see you were stationed at Tachikawa Air Base japan, I have a facebook group for Tachi AB, your welcome to come and join, I have thousands of photos of the base from 1945 to 1977 when it was closed. I also have many Tachi AB videos on you tube. here is the tachi ab link https://www.facebook.com/groups/377719578936686/

    I also made a 21 min video for Tachi many years ago here is the video https://vimeo.com/143874872

  71. I believe my dad EE “Lefty” Inman said that General Stewart was in his squadron at Moffitt Field in the early 40’s. Any memories?

  72. Thank you for all the new (for me) info on Mr. Stewart’s military career.
    USAF, Travis AFB, CA 1961-1964

  73. Great article. As a USAF pilot myself, I always liked Jimmy Stewart, his films and the fact that he stayed in the USAF Reserve for so many years making it to brigadier general rank. In the official picture at the top of the article, it puzzles me that General Stewart is not wearing USAF Command Pilot Wings, or even Senior Pilot wings? Does anyone know why?

  74. I had the pleasure of meeting Brig General Stewart at Travis AFB in 1971 when he attended a retirement party for a fellow Air Force Reservist. Even though I was a lowly Sgt and star struck he took a moment to shake my hand and introduced hisself. Like I didn’t know.

  75. I never served with General Stewart because he was much older than me, but we only live not far from his hometown of Indiana, PA and we have been to his Jimmy Stewart Museum several times.
    My Dad had movie theater, and I grew up watching his movies that were some of my favorites!
    Jimmy Stewart movies were always movies that were great, and the characters he played were usually someone you could look up to, as he was in real life!
    I still watch his movies and we still stop over at his museum theater every Christmas
    and see “It’s a Wonderful Life!”

  76. My father was in the 389th when Mr. Stewart flew with that BG.
    Dad said that Mr. Stewart always wanted to lead his men into combat,
    and did.

  77. Back when we had actors who were out there dropping bombs on Commies and not supporting one for President!

  78. 348th Combat Support Group, Itazuke AB, Japan, 1967-1968; 55th Support Group, Offutt AFB, Nebraska, 1966-1967.

  79. Reading this blog brought back many memories. I too was stationed at Turner AFB, and two of my best friends were 1, Tailgunner on a B-52, and the other was a boom operator on a KC-135. I was stationed there as a Small Arms Instructor from 1961 to 1963. It was during the Cuban Crisis, and we swapped out our 52’s and 135’s for a fighter Squadron in south Fla. We had the 1370th photo mapping wing which flew RB-50’s which were B-29’s converted with a taller tail and larger powerplants. I figure they were the ones that got most of the Cuban missle photos. Somehow because of my Electronic background, I was TDY to the U-2 squadron (2 Planes) to retrofit larger cameras and film packs. Time sure flys by…Seems like not too long ago, I was riding My Triumph T-120 down Slappy Drive in Albany looking for girls. I consider my time there as the best years I could ever imagine… I left there and went to Osan AB Korea training our Counter Insurgency corps with the then new Colt Armalite AR-15. I often wondered which of the guys I trained didn’t make it back….
    Thanks for the blog Bryan…

  80. This article was tremendous as was reading all your wonderful comments—I learned a lot from both. Thank you to all of you who so bravely served our country. I greatly respect and salute you all.

  81. I greatly appreciate the talent, dedication, and service that Jimmy Stewart showed in everything he tackled. Let me mention that that there is another Oscar award winning actor that served in WWII, spent 20+ years in the reserves and rose to the rank of Captain in the Navy. Jackie Cooper. I heard that the Navy had offered to promote him to Rear Admiral, but Cooper didn’t think he had the time he thought the position required to be done properly and he wouldn’t accept the promotion based on celebrity. Jackie Cooper is interred in Arlington.
    Honesty and integrity were hallmarks for both of these great men.

  82. I was in Tachi in 1952. Then transferred to Ashiya AFB which was a detachment of K16 in Korea. Was there when the Armistice was signed July 27 1953. We had c-47s and I earned my Crew members wings. Loved it!.

  83. Read about some of this story before. Not many like him in Hollywod today. Thanks for sharing.

  84. I was born in 1943. For some reason I have always been attacked to movies about the war. Would have watched Vietnam war movies except for the language they always have to add to sell tickets. But I would like to thank the men and women who served in the armed forces for their service to their country. You will always be my heroes

  85. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting BGen James Stewart.

    In 1979 while stationed at March AFB, Ca. I was assigned to the 22 BMW Honor Guard.

    We performed full ceremonies for BGen Stewart at the Beverly Hotel in Beverly Hills Ca when he was honored by the USAF and the AFA.

    We were served dinner in the hotel employee dining room. BGen Stewart came back to talk to us and thank us.

    I as an A1C was also the courier for our fully functional M1 Garands armed with a loaded M15 Revolver.

    He said I must be the Sargent of the guard.

    I replied the Airman of the guard, He really liked that, and laughed.

    He was very personable and soft-spoken.

    I only regret not getting his autograph.

    USAF, Retired

  86. If you are interested in Jimmy Stewart carrier in the Air Force, read this book : “Mission, Jimmy Stewart and the fight for Europe” by Robert Matze , GoodKnight Books.

  87. I was very surprised and pleased to learn that Brigadier General Jimmy Stewart participated in Arc-light. He was a great actor and a great pilot . . . I was stationed at Westover AFB from 66-to-70, home of the 99th Bomb wing (flight line and heavy equipment) . We did three six-month tours at Anderson AFB (Guam). . . We hauled hundreds of bombs to those remarkable and efficient B-52 Aircraft (24/7). . .And now that I know Jimmy Stewart was there, it has a special meaning of his greatness and patriotism. . .

  88. I was born in Sweden 1969.
    In the 80th (As a +10yr old learning english. Yes still bad at grammar), I frequently watched the old classic movies from 1950-70. Great actors, great movies.
    James Stewart was a great man and thanks to him (and some other actors ) it was easy to understand and learn the language.
    I am talking about his wording and very articulated speaking.

    I can read, listen and understand english thanks to the black/white movies from that era. (“Era” is an english word right? )

    Sadly, I s*ck at writing and talking in english.

    I hope you all understand my writing 🙂
    //Swedish military (red cross) medic (and medevac)

  89. Great read. Thanks! I did my SAC tour at Wurtsmith AFB MI in 1970-72 as the Vietnam War was cooling down. Our flight crews did rotations there out of Thailand. I agree, I hated that they did away with SAC, TAC, and MAC.

    Did not know that Gen. Stewart was qualified in the B52, or that he flew an Arc Light mission.

    He had the right stuff, as did George McGovern, another bomber pilot with WWII experience.

    Again, thanks for the informative and heart-warming article.

  90. I am confused and help me get it straight. Gen Stewart was returning from a mission over Vietnam in either 67 or 68. He landed at Clark AFB PI to refuel to get back to Anderson AFB, Guam. I was at the BX at Clark, heard a voice I thought I recognized turned around and was facing, Gen. Steward in his dirty flying fatigues. Yes well used he was not making a movie, He had just few a combat mission. That late 67 or 68.I was in and out of the PI 23 times in 24 months. But I saw Jimmy, shook his hand and did not ask for an autograph, since we were there doing the same thing. And he showed me the fine jewelry he had bought his wife..

  91. Gen. Stewart was a great man of many abilities. I love his movies and am thankful for his air force career. I was a navigator on 40 B-52G missions out of Anderson AFB, Dec. 72 until Oct. 73, when most B-52s bombing stopped in SEA. Served in SAC on B-52s & KC-135s and Reserve C-130s retiring in 1992 as LtCol. Loved every minute.

Comments are closed.