Lots of actors play war heroes on the screen. James Stewart was one in real life.
A decorated World War II bomber pilot who returned from battle to star in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Stewart will be commemorated on a new 41-cent postage stamp being released Friday.
Stewart flew 20 bombing missions over Germany, including one over Berlin, after wrangling combat duty when commanders would have preferred to use a movie star for morale building work at home.
As a squadron commander, Stewart flew many dangerous missions when he could have sent others instead, recalled Robbie Robinson, a sergeant who was an engineer-gunner in Stewart’s B-24 squadron.
But while Stewart rose to colonel during the war and later retired as a brigadier general in the reserves, he didn’t stand on ceremony.
Robinson, of Collierville, Tenn., recalled one time when a creative tail gunner managed to “liberate” a keg of beer from the officer’s club.
That evening, Stewart wandered into a hut where some men were resting, picked up a cup, walked over to the “hidden” keg, poured himself a beer and sat back and drank it slowly, relaxing in a chair.
“We were shaking in our boots,” Robinson said.
But Stewart merely got up, wiped out the cup, asked the men to keep an eye out for a missing keg of beer, and left.
Another time, Robinson recalled in a telephone interview, his plane landed behind another that was stuck on the end of the runway, nearly clipping it’s tail.
After watching this Stewart rubbed his chin and commented: “Ye Gods, sergeant, somebody’s going to get hurt in one of these things.”
“Once in your lifetime someone crosses your path you can never forget, and that was Jimmy Stewart,” Robinson concluded.
This is the 13th stamp in the “Legends of Hollywood” series and will be dedicated in ceremonies at Universal Studios, Hollywood, Calif.
“It’s our privilege to pay tribute to James Stewart, a fantastic actor, a great gentleman, a brave soldier, and an inspirational human being who truly led a wonderful life,” Alan C. Kessler, vice chairman of the postal governing board, said in a statement.
Other highlights from Stewart’s career include the movies “Rear Window,” “Vertigo” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” all directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
Stewart played a country lawyer in “Anatomy of a Murder” and played a lawyer again in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” a Western released in 1962.
He won an Oscar for best actor in “Philadelphia Story” in 1940.
Stewart died on July 2, 1997.