EPISODE 5: What Does Author Robert Matzen Think of “Masters of the Air”?
Robert Matzen is author of Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe, a full account of the Hollywood star’s experiences and an 8th Air Force pilot and commander.
In March 1941, a few months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Stewart enlisted as a private in the United States Army Air Corps. His decision to serve was not merely symbolic; Stewart was genuinely committed to contributing to the war effort. His background as a pilot, even before his acting career took off, made him a natural fit for the Air Corps. Stewart’s commitment to serving his country was clear, as he turned down offers to avoid combat and even attempted to resign his commission to enter the battle sooner.
In 1943, he was assigned to the 445th Bombardment Group, part of the Eighth Air Force, and flew numerous combat missions over Nazi-occupied Europe. Stewart piloted B-24 Liberator bombers, facing the dangers and challenges of aerial warfare with courage.
His leadership qualities were evident, and he quickly advanced to the rank of captain. His experience and skills as a pilot made him an asset, and he eventually took command of the 703rd Bombardment Squadron. Under his leadership, the squadron played a crucial role in the bombing campaign against Germany.
The toll of combat had a profound impact on him. He got transferred to desk duties. Word spread that Air Corps brass didn’t want him to be killed. It is also seems he suffered from battle fatigue.
Jimmy Stewart came home a changed man and starred in his first postwar picture, It’s a Wonderful Life. Among the medals, he was awarded were two Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Croix de Guerre. For the next half century, Stewart refused to discuss his combat experiences.
It took an author, Robert Matzen, who joins VBC Greatest Generation Live, to recover Jimmy Stewart’s lost war record.
Matzen sifted through thousands of Air Force combat reports and the Stewart personnel files; interviewed surviving aviators who flew with Stewart; visited the James Stewart Papers at Brigham Young University; flew in the cockpits of the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator; and walked the earth of air bases in England used by Stewart in his combat missions of 1943-45.
Matzen’s book, Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe, presents the first in-depth look at Stewart’s life as a Squadron Commander in the skies over Germany, from takeoff to landing and every key moment in between.