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Air Force honors famous actor, reservist

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Russell P. Petcoff
  • 11th Wing Public Affairs
The Air Force Reserve helped the Air Force honor fellow reservist and Hollywood legend Jimmy Stewart during  a hometown celebration May 24. 

Mr. Stewart, an Oscar-winning star, also flew bomber missions with the Army Air Corps during World War II and rose to the rank of brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve.

Maj. Gen. Charles E. Stenner Jr., assistant deputy chief of staff for Strategic Plans and Programs, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, represented Air Force Reserve Command. He presented Kelly Stewart Harcourt and Judy Stewart, the actor's daughters , with two pewter plaques commemorating the Air Force Reserve's 60th anniversary. He also gave them a photograph of their father sitting at his desk when he served as deputy director of the Office of Information Services, the predecessor to Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.

General Stenner has been nominated to command AFRC, pending Senate confirmation. He is slated to replace Lt. Gen. John A. Bradley, who retires in June.

Col. Terry L. Ross, 11th Wing vice commander, Bolling Air Force Base, D.C., presented the daughters with their father's two Distinguished Flying Crosses and four Air Medals he earned for combat missions he flew. They also received their father's French Croix de Guerre with Palm decoration.

"Jimmy Stewart was a sincere Airman who lived by our core values before they ever became a part of our service creed - Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do," General Stenner said.

"The DFC is a rare award and not given lightly," Colonel Ross said. "They are awarded to Airmen who distinguish themselves in combat in support of operations by heroism or extraordinary achievement."

Mr. Stewart received his first DFC for leading a bombing mission over Germany Feb. 20, 1944, that met with heavy Luftwaffe fighter attacks and anti-aircraft fire.

The general joined the Air Force Reserve after World War II. 

"It was not a path many Airmen took, especially established leaders like Col. Jimmy Stewart," General Stenner said. "Many expected him to hang up his flying helmet and goggles and return to Hollywood, but he chose to continue to serve."

General Stenner mentioned a few of events Mr. Stewart influenced while serving in the Air Force Reserve.

"His training helped prepare flyers that supported the Berlin Airlift," General Stenner said. "His understanding of movies and television helped us reach millions of Americans and show them the faces of the men and women who were protecting their country. His knowledge of bombardment theory and airlift made him an expert observer during Vietnam."

General Stenner said not many people were aware of General Stewart's military accomplishments.

"People, may not have heard of Stewart's military efforts because he was a modest man," General Stenner said. "Kelly, Judy, stars like your father never fade."

Colonel Ross quoted Mr. Stewart's own words to explain why the famous actor risked his successful Hollywood career to be an $80-a-month private.

"It may sound corny, but what's wrong with fighting for one's country?" Colonel Ross asked. "He volunteered to help defend his beloved country." 

The U.S. Air Force Band's Ceremonial Brass and the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard Colors Team provided music and colors.

The ceremony took place outside the Jimmy Stewart Museum, next to the Indiana County Court House with its statue of the actor on the lawn. 

The actor starred in such movies as "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "The Philadelphia Story" and "It's a Wonderful Life."

Mr. Stewart enlisted in the Army Air Corps March 19, 1941, weeks after receiving the Best Actor Oscar for "The Philadelphia Story." 

He rose to the rank of colonel during the war where he flew a number of missions over Nazi Germany. He joined the Air Force Reserve in September 1945 and eventually became a brigadier general.