11. The Hollywood Star Who Actually Wanted to Fight in WWII
By the time America joined WWII, Jimmy Stewart was an established star. It would have been easy for him, as others from Hollywood had done, to avoid service altogether – John, cough, Wayne. Alternatively, he could have readily secured a safe military gig that allowed him to be seen in uniform, yet stay away from danger – cough, cough, Reagan. But Stewart’s grandfather had fought against the South, and his father had fought against both Spain and Germany. So when war came along in Stewart’s generation, it was natural that he would go off to fight. He had been drafted by the Army in 1940 but was medically rejected because he was underweight.
However, Stewart was a flight enthusiast who had secured his pilot’s certificate in 1935, and had accumulated over 400 hours in the cockpit by the time America got into the war. He managed to get around the underweight bit and enlist in the US Army Air Forces in 1941. Upon his graduation from a pilot training program in 1942, he was commissioned a second lieutenant. Higher-ups wanted to shunt him into PR and put his celebrity to use in bonds drives and rally appearances, but Stewart wanted a combat assignment. After many travails and clashes with commanders, he managed a transfer into a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber group, which joined the US Eighth Air Force in Britain in the autumn of 1943.