Jimmy Stewart, my hero
I had heard that Jimmy and a movie actress (possibly Donna Reed) had visited a neighbor and were dropped off a big limousine, but I guess I was in school and missed it. So, I kept up my interest, and this is one of my most complete stories.
James Maitland Stewart was born in a small town and helped out in the family’s general store. James plotted the flight of Lucky Lindberg’s sold to Paris, France, and got hooked on aviation, after a flight with a barnstormer. He kept up with it until the end of his life.
He took an acting part to round out his studies, and a talent scout picked him out for an audition at the group’s performance for Warner Brothers’ Studios.
He played several heavy (villain) parts and it helped pay for flying lessons at local fields, like Burbank.
The studios became worried when he was learning multi-engine air training, and passed!
He joined the Air Force just before WWll, barely passing the height restriction of 6-feet, 4-inches.
When the war began, he was pulling guard duty and went through the military flight schools.
Now the studios were really worried and tried to get him stationed stateside as an instructor. He became very proficient as a bomber pilot of B-17’s and B-24’s.
“Jimmy” pulled strings and went on to deliver a bomber to England. The studio management and all government agencies tried to keep him out of combat, but the need for pilots was so great that he advanced up the ranks to become squadron leader, then to a very dangerous command of a “Pathfinder Group.”
He was credited with saving several missions with his navigational skills and “coolness” in combat situations. No one accurately counted his missions because he went along on so many flights that no one really knows.
As newer planes and well-trained pilots came along and made up for the losses, he finally became a flight commander on the ground insuring that all was being done correctly, except for unexpected ride along flights.
When the war was over, he was on a troop ship arriving in New York Harbor and on troop trains headed for home. He said he shook every hand he was with.
The studio wanted him to make war movies like Audie Murphy, and he refused. He told them, “The real heroes are all buried or missing over there, I won’t make a penny on their lost lives.” And he never did.
He played in aviation films like Lindberg’s famous flight “Strategic Air Command,” and I saw “Flight of the Phoenix” at the Avenue Theater in Downey (more on this subject in another story).
He was the Six Shooter on the radio and other films, and I always admired him as a hero.
His wife said he was always a perfect husband, father, and gentleman. He went to England to visit Old Buck, U.S. Air Base (now an historical English landmark). He met a lot of his old flying friends for the last time in his life.
His statue and bronze bust is in his hometown…their hero and mine.
Anthony Caldwell is a member of the writing class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. It is held off-campus at the Norwalk Senior Center.