The Patriotic Sacrifice of Jimmy Stewart

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John Wayne knew America was built on the struggles and triumphs of tenacious people whose will to carry on in the face of incredible adversity forged an unparalleled cultural legacy of greatness. Whether onscreen or off, Duke sought to highlight the hardships, sacrifices and staggering circumstances these rugged individuals endured to form the backbone of our great nation. Featuring 125 pioneers, leaders, trailblazers and others from America's past and present, John Wayne's Book of American Grit celebrates the indomitable spirit of gutsy everyday Americans as well as cultural icons whose legendary stories of courage and resilience despite all odds will inspire generations to come.

Below, read about one of the amazing heroes included in John Wayne's Book of American Grit and order your copy from your favorite retailers, including: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and Walmart.


Jimmy Stewart entry in John Wayne's Book of American Grit


After becoming a rising star in Hollywood, James Maitland Stewart put his acting dreams on hold to fight in the greatest conflict of the 20th century. Much like Duke, Stewart put in several years of hard work on his way to stardom. After performing with a summer stock theater company and completing a short stint on Broadway, the Princeton alum scored his first leading film role in the 1936 B-movie action flick Speed, during which time he shared an apartment with future leading man Henry Fonda.


But after a series of commercially unsuccessful films, Stewart’s breakout role in Frank Capra’s romantic comedy You Can’t Take It With You (1938) delivered the critical acclaim and glowing reviews he deserved. The Academy Award-winning film showcased Stewart’s acting chops, positing him as the fresh-faced, earnest boy next door antidote to the Clark Gable archetype of rugged macho male leads. The following year, he snagged an Oscar nomination for his spirited performance as the titular hero in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.


But as the Third Reich clawed its way through Europe, the United States began gathering its forces in preparation to enter the fray. A few months before The Philadelphia Story (1940) hit theaters, the only film to win him an Academy Award for Best Actor, Stewart received his draft notice. There was just one problem: at 6'3" and 138 pounds, the thin, lanky actor was five pounds short of the minimum weight requirement to enlist. Determined to make the cut, he bulked up with the help of an MGM trainer. After completing his next weigh-in, Stewart entered the Army Air Corps, or what is now referred to as the Air Force.


Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, he narrated two recruitment films, Fellow Americans and Winning Your Wings (1942), the latter of which the Air Force credited with inspiring a whopping 150,000 men to join the cause. As he already possessed private and commercial pilots licenses, Stewart’s interest in aviation served him well during flight training and throughout the course of his 20 bombing missions over German territory.


While conducting one mission over northern France in January 1944, Stewart informed the lead plane of his squadron that they were flying a good 30 degrees off-course, a flight path that would lead the group straight over Luftwaffe airfields. To his frustration, the pilot told him to stay off the radio, but soon enough, more than 60 German bombers swarmed Stewart’s squadron and opened fire. Fortunately, all of his men made it safely back to base. 


After the war, he returned to the Hollywood scene as a hero, and carved out a wide swath of successful films including It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958) and Anatomy of a Murder (1959). Through this time, he remained in the armed forces on reserve, rising to the esteemed rank of brigadier general, the only actor to ever do so. Later in his career, Stewart joined John Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and co-starred in Duke’s final film, The Shootist (1976), a fitting sendoff to a lifelong friend.


Get more inspiring stories like this one in John Wayne's Book of American Grit!

John Wayne's Book of American Grit