Movie stars at war

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Bob Hope led the pack of popular performers who entertained the troops during World War II. John Wayne and other actors fought the war in feature films, and other Hollywood favorites tirelessly toured the country on war bond drives. In fact, beloved actress Carole Lombard died in early 1942 in a plane crash returning from a war bond drive.

But there were numerous established stars, directors, producers and workers in other branches of the film industry who put their careers on hold to serve the country during WWII.

In honor of Memorial Day, here’s a look at some of the superstars who put themselves in harm’s way during the war.


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James Stewart

Prewar: With his lanky, boy-next-door charm, Stewart was one of MGM’s top young leading men. Besides winning an Oscar for 1940’s “The Philadelphia Story,” he also starred in the 1938 best picture winner, “You Can’t Take It With You,” and earned an Oscar nomination for 1939’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

Joining up: Stewart, then 32, was one of the men whose number was called in early 1941 in the first peacetime draft. However, he was turned down for service because he was 5 pounds underweight. But Stewart wanted to serve his country, so he fattened up, enlisted in the Army Air Corps and passed the physical, becoming the first Hollywood star to join the military before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

War record: After being assigned as a flight instructor for nearly two years stateside, Stewart was stationed in England, where he piloted bombing missions including raids on Germany. His numerous honors included the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and the World War II Victory Medal. A colonel by war’s end, Stewart remained with the U.S. Air Force Reserves and was promoted to brigadier general in 1959. He retired from the Air Force in 1968.

Clark Gable


Prewar: One of the biggest stars in Hollywood, Gable had won the lead actor Oscar for 1934’s “It Happened One Night,” a nomination for 1935’s “Mutiny on the Bounty” and another nomination for his most famous role as Rhett Butler in 1939’s “Gone With the Wind.”

Joining up: Married to Lombard at the time of her death, the 41-year-old Gable joined the Army Air Forces in August 1942, as a private.

War record: Trained as a photographer and aerial gunner, he was assigned to England to make a movie to recruit air gunners. He saw combat during bombing missions and nearly lost his life when enemy flak just missed hitting him the head. He received an Air Medal and a Distinguished Flying Cross.

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Gable, who returned to the U.S. in late 1943, became a major in May 1944. By then, he was too old for combat duty, so he requested and received a discharge the following month. Capt. Ronald Reagan signed his discharge papers. (A side note: Adolf Hitler considered Gable his favorite actor and offered a substantial reward for his safe capture.)

Tyrone Power


Prewar: 20th Century Fox’s top matinee idol starred in such films as 1936’s “Lloyds of London” 1939’s and “Jesse James.”

Joining up: After completing the war film “Crash Dive,” the 28-year-old Power enlisted in the Marine Corps as a private in August 1942 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant the following summer and a first lieutenant in 1944.

War record: As a transport pilot, he participated in the air supply into and evacuation of the wounded from Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He received the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two bronze stars and the World War II Victory Medal.