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How Hollywood Icon Jimmy Stewart, a WWII Ace, Dealt With PTSD

Jimmy Stewart, who left Hollywood to become a pilot in World War II, rarely spoke of his military service but channeled it into his acting.

Actors can take all sorts of approaches to their roles. While some study and memorize facts to become a character, others use a deep-seated emotion within themselves to unlock the truth of a character. For Hollywood acting icon Jimmy Stewart that came from his time as a World War II veteran and experiencing the horrors of war.

According the book Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe by Robert Matzen: 

“Stewart was haunted by ‘a thousand black memories’ from his time as an Air Force commanding officer that he took with him back to Hollywood after the war.”

Stewart was able to use the pain of losing colleagues in the war in his films

“He acted it out during It’s a Wonderful Life, where character George Bailey unravels in front of his family – the emotional core of the film after a lifetime of setbacks, including being unable to go to war while his brother becomes a decorated hero.

Films like Shenandoah and Winchester 73 allowed Stewart to explore his dark side which was never there before he went to war.”

It is common for actors to use personal experience or even personal pain to channel into their acting. Few actors can channel the horrors of war. 

Related: Watch George Burns Take Aim At Jimmy Stewart At This Dean Martin Roast

Jimmy Stewart Leaves Hollywood For Military Career During World War II

Before the outbreak of World War 2, Jimmy Stewart was already an accomplished amateur pilot with over 400 flying hours. Like a lot of men, he volunteered gladly.

When asked why he would give up a Hollywood movie career he stated: 

‘This country’s conscience is bigger than all the studios in Hollywood put together, and the time will come when we’ll have to fight.”

Stewart was the first major film star to enlist.

As a seasoned pilot, he became a bomber pilot and flew dozens of missions over Europe. He rose up the ranks quickly becoming a colonel.

While in the military Stewart refused to star in movies, apart from one recruitment fil titled “Winning your Wings” which lead to 150,000 men signing up to become airmen. 

Jimmy Stewart went on to become a highly decorated soldier and airman before retiring as a general. 

I don’t think we will see someone the likes of Stewart again. His selflessness brings to mind NFL star turned soldier Pat Tillman. Two men who had all the advantages and privileges in the world, but gave it all up to serve their country. 

I wish some of the Hollywood prima donnas would stop lecturing and start serving our country. We would be a better place if we had more men and women in the service of our country.


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