LIFE With Jimmy Stewart: A War Hero Comes Home, 1945
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When James Maitland Stewart, the son of hardware store owners from Indiana, Pennsylvania, enlisted in the United States Army in 1941, he wasn’t like most privates. For one thing, he was already well into his 30s. For another, he had already been rejected by the military for being too skinny. (The first time around, he was five pounds under the Army’s weight standard for new recruits.) And finally, no other World War II inductee had won a Best Actor Oscar, as Stewart had for his immortal performance as reporter Mike Connor in 1940′s The Philadelphia Story.
Putting his Hollywood career on hold to join the Army Air Corps — a forerunner to today’s Air Force — Stewart ultimately reached the rank of colonel (one of few Americans ever to rise from private to colonel in four years); flew dozens of combat missions, some as command pilot of sorties deep into Nazi-occupied Europe; and came back from the war on the Queen Elizabeth, covered in medals — including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal.
For its September 24, 1945, cover story, LIFE magazine’s Peter Stackpole followed Stewart around his Pennsylvania hometown, chronicling what it looked like when the Hollywood star returned home a war hero.