When the army split from the Air Forces in 1947, Stewart remained on as a member of the Air Force Reserve Command. During active-duty periods, he would serve with the Strategic Air Command. In the meantime, he also completed training as a pilot in both B-47 and B-52 bombers. Yes, that’s right, the Stratofortress was once flown by Jimmy Stewart. In 1946, Stewart started getting back into commercial films now that he had helped win the war.
Apparently, he actually considered returning home to help run the family store, leaving his Hollywood lifestyle behind. Hollywood and military duty don’t always mix. It was his old friend Frank Capra that convinced him to stick with the movies, and it was a film we’re all familiar with that was the most important part.
He Yearned to Fly
Stewart wasn’t happy that his celebrity status kept him out of the air. He spent more than a year training pilots at the Kirtland Army Airfield in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and then he begged his commander to be put into a more front-line position. His commander relented, sending Stewart to England as part of the 445th Bombardment Group, flying B-24 Liberators.
These were big vessels that could practically drown the enemy in bombs, and keeping them up and getting them back home was a big job. Following a successful run to bomb Ludwigshafen, Germany, on January 7th, 1944, Stewart was promoted to major. His success continued, and he was awarded a number of hardware for his chest, including a Distinguished Flying Cross, the French Croix de Guerre with palm, and the Air Medal with Three oak leaf clusters.
Rising in the Ranks
On March 29 th, 1945, Stewart was promoted to full colonel, making him one of the few Americans to ever rise from private to colonel in only four years. We suspect that his celebrity status was at least a little bit of a help when it came to that. Being at such high standing wasn’t all fun and games – in June of 1945, Stewart was the presiding officer in the court martial hearing of a pilot and navigator who had accidentally bombed Zürich, Switzerland.
Stewart returned to the United States in the fall of 1945, after the war ended. He continued in a role as a member of the Army Air Forces reserve afterward. He was even one of the twelve founders of the Air Force Association in October of 1945.
The Thin Man
Stewart had also been of slight build. In fact, it was so skinny that it could have been dangerous. When he was in high school, he was on the football team, but he never rose higher than a third-stringer – his coach was afraid one good hit would break Stewart in half. Being skinny is usually a good thing, but even the army wanted people to be in a healthy range. When Stewart first tried to enlist, he was rejected for being five pounds overweight.
While gaining five pounds doesn’t seem like it would be too tough, Packing the pounds away just wasn’t Stewart’s style. He’d always been a light eater. It was even harder back then, too – no Oreos, no Dairy Queen, no Pizza Hut, and no weight-gain shakes. It took him a little while to meet the requirements, but he managed.
Thinner After the War
Stewart never talked much about his experiences in war. It’s not uncommon, especially for people who went through something like World War II. However, the effects on him seemed to have been dramatic and not just emotional. While Stewart had always been tall and lanky, following the war, his caloric intake seemed to drop even further than it had been before. According to reports, some days, he would barely eat anything at all.
One of his biographers said that he would go long periods (these lengths are not defined) eating only peanut butter and ice cream. Sounds like a tasty treat, but not the kind of thing you should build a diet around. The fact that “After the Thin Man” was one of his bigger roles is not lost on many.