Thursday, May 29, 2008

11th Wing, Air Force Reserve honor famous actor, Airman

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Timothy Chacon
The Jimmy Stewart Centennial Celebration took place May 24 in his hometown of Indiana, Penn. From left to right are Nick and Nina Clooney, parents of actor George Clooney; Marie and Rich Little, comedian; Kelly Stewart Harcourt and Judy Stewart, daughters of Jimmy Stewart; Maj. Gen. Charles E. Stenner Jr., assistant deputy chief of staff for Strategic Plans and Programs, Headquarters U.S. Air Force; Col. Terry L. Ross, 11th Wing vice commander; and Carson Greene, president of the Jimmy Stewart Museum. In addition to being a Hollywood star, Stewart served as a bomber pilot in World War II with the Army Air Corps, and later served in the Air Force Reserve. He retired as a brigadier general.
Actor James M. Stewart was a Hollywood legend who 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.

Officials from the 11th Wing and Air Force Reserve Command participated in a centennial celebration May 24 in his hometown of Indiana, Penn.

Col. Terry L. Ross, 11th Wing vice commander, presented Kelly Stewart Harcourt and Judy Stewart, the actor's daughters, 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.

“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.“ 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.

Maj. Gen. Charles E. Stenner Jr., assistant deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and programs, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, represented the Force Reserve Command. He presented Stewart's daughters with two pewter plaques commemorating the 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, today's Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.

“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,“ the general said.

After World War II, Stewart joined the Air Force Reserve. “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 events Stewart influenced while serving in the Reserve. “His training helped prepare flyers that supported the Berlin Airlift,“ he 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 Brigadier General Stewart's military accomplishments. “People may not have heard of Stewart's military efforts because he was a modest man,“ he said. “Kelly, Judy, stars like your father never fade.“

Colonel Ross quoted 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 for the day's events. The Air Force Reserve's 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., provided a C-130 Hurricane Hunter flyover.

The ceremony took place outside the Jimmy Stewart Museum, next to the Indiana County Court House with a statue of the famed actor adorning its lawn. Stewart starred in such movies as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,“ “The Philadelphia Story,“ “It's a Wonderful Life“ and “Harvey.“

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 and flew many missions over Nazi Germany. He joined the Reserve in September 1945 and rose to become a brigadier general.

“Jimmy never took the easy missions,“ Colonel Ross said, noting the actor-turned-bomber pilot participated in some of the first daytime bombing missions over central Germany, one of the best-defended cities on Earth at the time.

Then-Major Stewart participated in Big Week, a massive air attack on German military bases and factories, in an attempt to lure the Luftwaffe into dogfight engagements where the Allies' new fighter aircraft could destroy them. The Luftwaffe was not used as an air superiority asset, but rather in support of ground-based forces, allowing the new fighters to inflict devastating losses on the Axis, while the bomber forces were able to destroy the facilities where replacement aircraft would otherwise have been built.

Local citizens from Stewart's hometown as well as family and friends from all over the world came to the ceremony. Colonel Ross said the Indiana community greatly influenced a young Jimmy Stewart. “Hollywood gave him fame, but Indiana, Pennsylvania, gave him heart,“ Colonel Ross said.

Lee Walker Kenneally, of Boardman, Ohio, grew up in Indiana and attended the ceremony with her sister, Nancy Walker. Kenneally remembered Stewart stopping by Calvary Presbyterian Church to visit when he was in town. “He would come in Sunday school and shake our hands,“ she said.

Colonel Ross said it was Stewart's hometown that inspired him to serve during the war: “Why did he serve so passionately? Because he loved all of you. He loved the people of this city who inspired in him a sense of hope and faith. He loved all of you because you were his America, and he was willing to fight until his last to keep up free.

“As an Airman, Brigadier General Stewart illuminates our path to excellence,“ Colonel Ross continued. “As an actor, he gives us something to believe in. He serves as one of the Air Force's greatest role models, proving that how one lives his life can make the world - and his service - a better place. The legend he built during World War II will never fade so long as there is an Airman alive.“