Bing Crosby giving a United Service Organizations (USO) performance for USAAF personnel at Duxford.

Among the millions of Americans who volunteered for service on and off the battlefield during World War II were some of the biggest names in Hollywood. From John Wayne, Mel Brooks, Paul Newman, and others who served as soldiers, to Lana Turner, Marlene Dietrich, and more who visited troops, organized, and fundraised, the stars of the silver screen played their part in the war.

Bob Hope, accompanied by Frances Langford, sitting in the cockpit of a P-47 Thunderbolt at Duxford, July 1943.

Many in Hollywood were eager to assist the war effort in any way they could and either joined the military themselves or visited bases to entertain and encourage soldiers.

Duxford, the home of the American Air Museum was previously the base of the 78th Fighter Group and hosted several celebrities between 1943-1945. Funnyman Bob Hope, singer and actress Frances Langford, crooner Bing Crosby, and Academy Award winner James Cagney were among the many who visited the base.

Hollywood often painted a simplistic portrait of war, and the everyday life of airmen rarely matched the vision on-screen. Long stretches between missions, danger in the skies, boredom, hunger, angst, and disease made for an often less-than-exciting existence. Performances of stars were intended to provide a welcome break and boost morale, but Bob Hope admitted that even he struggled to get the men of the 78th Fighter Group to laugh during his visit to Duxford, two days after the loss of their Commanding Officer.

Jimmy Stewart

Major Jimmy Stewart, center, with B-24 Liberator crew members after a mission (IWM FRE 1870).

Most people know Jimmy Stewart for his roles in beloved movies including It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Philadelphia Story. But perhaps less well known is his career as an officer in the US Air Forces. As a keen pilot from a military family, Stewart put his acting career on hold and signed on to serve his country in 1941.

After serving as a flight instructor in the US, Stewart was posted in the UK in 1943 and completed 22 combat missions aboard B-24 Liberators. In 1944 he was made commander of the 453rd Bomb Group at Old Buckenham. Stewart served in the armed forces for a total of 27 years, retiring in 1968 as a Brigadier General in the US Air Force Reserve.

You can see Jimmy Stewart’s uniform and find out more about his service in the US Air Force at the American Air Museum at IWM Duxford.

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