Unlike other commanding officers Stewart, who was a Captain, took time to get to know his men as he wanted a team atmosphere. The tactic worked but at a huge personal cost - when they started to be killed off it hit him harder. Their first mission was to bomb a Nazi submarine facility in the city of Kiel and went off better than Stewart had expected. Not flying was difficult than flying for Major Stewart, seen here waiting on the control tower platform at Station Tibenham for the group to return from a mission. Stewart refused to discuss his combat missions and remained aloof about his service until the end of his life.
In he returned to Tibenham, England, where he spent four months as a squadron commander. As the flight got underway Stewart's dream was finally realized - he was in combat. Matzen writes that he 'became part of something vital, something like the phalanx of the Roman legions'. The biggest shock was the flak from anti-aircraft guns. Matzen writes that the training about it 'bore no resemblance to the experience' and their bombers yawed left and right and pitched up and down as explosions went off all around them in the sky.
None of Stewart's planes were shot down during the raid - but soon the bodies began fall. During a raid on Bremen, the second largest port in Germany, enemy fighters took down a bomber called 'Good Nuff'. Of the crew of ten, just three parachuted out. Not for the first time, Stewart had to write a letter to the parents of the dead airmen saying they were missing and presumed dead. A mission over Mannheim ended in catastrophe when they lost two planes with 20 men inside.
And as the weeks went on, this all began to weigh heavily on Stewart. Matzen said: 'He was a perfectionist and he was so hard on himself. It wasn't just that he had responsibility for his plane, if he was in a group it was planes and it was sometimes planes. He took back to Hollywood all the stress that he had built up. In total Stewart flew 20 missions and the stress manifested itself physically and mentally. Stewart could not keep his food down which became a problem when he was embarking on draining eight or nine hour missions.
Stewart survived the war on peanut butter and ice cream which meant his diet consisted of just protein and sugar.
- James "Jimmy" Maitland Stewart: WWII Bomber Pilot;
- Author of popular books about Hollywood history;
- Jimmy Stewart, bomber pilot / Starr Smith ; foreword by Walter Cronkite;
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Unable to sleep, he became more and more wore down by the demanding flights - that became more and more bloody. The worst was one that Stewart did not actually fly on, but his squadron did. The raid on the city of Gotha, Germany, led to the loss of 13 planes, or men all in one go. Those who survived told horrific tales of bodies flying through the air and planes exploding in front of them. More more than two hours Nazi fighters 'poured death and destruction' at Stewart's men from every direction. They used cables with bombs attached to them to bring their bombers down, fired rockets 'like the Fourth of July' and fired rockets at will.
Mr. Stewart Goes to War
Nazi pilots followed the planes as they went down to make sure there were no survivors. Stewart heard all this and knew that the next day he had to lead the next nearly identical mission. That night he did not sleep - miraculously his flight was nowhere near as bad. Perhaps the episode which disturbed Stewart the most was a raid which went terribly wrong. The rd were assigned to bomb a V-1 rocket facility in the northern French village of Siracourt.
It's A Wonderful Life pictured, with Stewart center was a lifeline for Stewart and rehabilitated him in the eyes of Hollywood, showing directors that he could still act.
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The instruments in Stewart's cockpit malfunctioned and 12 bombers deployed their payloads on the city of Tonnerre instead. At least 30 tons of general purpose bombs rained down causing unknown numbers of civilian casualties. Stewart's pilots tried to cover for him but he took the blame himself, something which earned him their ultimate respect.
Matzen told DailyMail. After getting a leave of absence Stewart spent weeks staying with his friend Peter Fonda in Los Angeles doing nothing but decompress. Matzen writes that Stewart 'couldn't imagine life in a peacetime air force, settling into a routine of drudgery'. For Stewart his soul had been 'ground down to nothing' and his 'youth had died'. When Stewart's mother Bessie and his father Alex saw him for the first time they were 'shocked by what they saw - their boy had aged what seemed decades'.
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Matzen writes that he was a decorated war hero, was rake thin and had gray hair and a 'command authority' that made his father uneasy. Stewart faced a grim reality: He was 37 but looked 50 and his career as a romantic lead was over. Matzen said that it was a lifeline for Stewart and rehabilitated him in the eyes of Hollywood, showing directors that he could still act. Matzen said: 'I don't think he had that kind of capacity before the war.
- Jimmy Stewart, bomber pilot / Starr Smith ; foreword by Walter Cronkite!
- James Maitland Stewart.
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It enabled him to be ferocious and to have that raw emotion. I think that was the side of him that in there all the time and that's how he would let it out,'. Stewart did not leave the military and continued to serve until May when he retired after 27 years of service during which time he was a bomber pilot during the Vietnam War. But the memories of World War II never left him and he would see people in the street who reminded him of the airmen who had died under his command.
In 'Mission', Matzen writes: 'Was he still flak happy, on a flak farm? Who could tell what was real after all that had happened over five long years. Bs hit, burning, spinning out of formation. Bail out! Do you see any chutes? How many chutes? Whose ship was it?
Oh God, not him? Not them! Bodies, pieces of bodies smacking off the windshield.
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