In honour of Remembrance Day, we salute the world-famous entertainers who represented their countries during the Second World War.
During an interview shortly before his death in 1997, Jimmy Stewart revealed that the Second World War was "something I think about almost every day—[it was] one of the greatest experiences of my life."
While Stewart, a highly decorated war veteran, retained a lifelong career with the military and spoke openly of his experiences, this was not the case for every member of the Hollywood elite who got involved—of which there were many. Mickey Rooney, Henry Fonda, Johnny Carson, author Roald Dahl, Charlton Heston and Humphrey Bogart all played a role in the war effort.
Some readily enlisted under their own volition, while others were inspired to take action after tragic events in their lives. Meanwhile, the roles others played in the war effort, like Gone with the Wind actor Leslie Howard, remain firmly entrenched in wild conspiracy theories and speculation.
Here, we look at some of their stories.
Mr. Stewart goes to war: Jimmy Stewart was the first of the Hollywood elite to enlist in the war effort. Perhaps it was his family's rich military history that inspired him to take the leap—both grandfathers fought in the Civil War and his own father served during the First World War.
He signed up in 1941 with the US Army Air Corps—but was almost denied because he was deemed too skinny (at six-foot-three Stewart weighed a mere 138 pounds). Stewart vowed to bulk up his lanky frame before the second physical exam, gorging on a steady diet of spaghetti, steak and milkshakes. He eventually passed the test. Stewart was stationed in California for training, but wanted to do more than just drills and desk duty.
He was ordered to report to Gowen Field in Boise, Idaho, and the 29th Bombardment Group, where he became a flight instructor on B-17 Flying Fortresses. By March 1943, Stewart was the operations officer of the 703rd Squadron, 445th Bomb Group, in Sioux City, Iowa, and was named the squadron's commander a mere three weeks later.
On November 11 that same year, Stewart led his 24 B-24H Liberators to England where they became part of the 2nd Air Division, Eighth Air Force. Stewart's first mission was to bomb U-boat facilities in Kiel, Germany. Following this and another 1944 mission, Stewart was promoted to major. In total, he flew more than 20 combat missions.
Stewart was later the recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with Oak Cluster, the Croix de Guerre with Palm and seven Battle Stars. But for Stewart, his passion for serving his country didn't end when the war did: He continued to play an active role in the Army Air Forces Reserve after he returned to acting. On July 23, 1959, Stewart—always a wildly popular leader with his troops—was promoted to brigadier general.
Next: Sir Alec Guinness
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