12 December 2010

A Christmas Classic and a Classic American

Last night, Meredith and I watched “It’s a Wonderful Life”, like so many families do every Christmas. As usual I was blown away by the kiss between Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. I knew it was the first on screen kiss that Jimmy Stewart filmed since returning from his duty in World War II, but I was unfamiliar with the extensive nature of his service. His military career is impressive and inspiring, and like Frank Capra’s movie is worth celebrating every year.

Here are a few details of his military contribution:

-Stewart family members served in the Civil War, The Spanish-American War, and World War I
-Stewart enlisted as a private in the Army Air Corps in March 1941 nearly a year before Pearl Harbor was attacked, but had to bulk up in pounds and be measured twice to make the weight requirement.

-He was an accomplished private pilot before joining the military, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1942, then began publicity performance duties and later pilot training.

-In 1943 he was finally granted his long-standing request for a combat assignment and became commander of the 703rd Bombardment Squadron as a Captain.

-He was promoted to Major after flying combat missions with the 445th Bombardment Group over Germany from the base in Norfolk, England.

-When Stewart became group operations officer to the 453rd Bombardment Group he flew the lead B-24 in order to command his troops from the front.
-His official total of missions is listed as 20, but the actual count is higher because he ordered that his missions with the 453rd go uncounted.

-He flew the 1943 mission to Schweinfurt, Germany known as “Black Thursday” where 60 of 291 aircraft were lost since the mission was beyond the range of the protecting escort aircraft.

-He is one of very few Americans who rose from the rank of Private to Colonel in four years.

-His decorations include:
+Distinguished Service Medal
+Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster
+Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters+Army Commendation Medal
+American Defense Service Medal
+European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 3 Service Stars
+World War II Victory Medal
+Armed Forces Reserve Medal+French Croix de Guerre with Palm
+Presidential Medal of Freedom
- In 1966 Stewart flew a combat mission in Vietnam marked by an in-flight refueling and a flap malfunction on landing.
-Stewart remained active in the reserves and was promoted to Brigadier General. Later after his retirement he was promoted to Major General by Ronald Reagan.

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