Jimmy Stewart: A war hero comes home

Published 11:27 AM EST, Sat November 9, 2013

Story highlights

Jimmy Stewart put his career on hold to join the Army Air Corps

The actor was well into his 30s and had already been rejected for being too skinny

He was one of few Americans ever to rise from private to colonel in four years

(CNN) —  

William Holden, Alec Guinness, George C. Scott, Denzel Washington: They all won Academy Awards for roles as heroic military men. But when James Maitland Stewart enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1941, he already had a Best Actor Oscar to his name, for his indelible performance as reporter Mike Connor in “The Philadelphia Story.”

Based in England during much of his service, Jimmy Stewart flew dozens of combat missions – more than a few as command pilot – on sorties deep into Nazi-occupied Europe and returned from the war with honors that included the Distinguished Flying Cross and Distinguished Service Medal.

In September 1945, LIFE photographer Peter Stackpole accompanied Stewart around his Indiana, Pennsylvania, hometown, chronicling the goings-on when the movie star returned home a hero.

Read the full story and see the entire gallery on Life.com.