Written By: Ben Cosgrove

When James Maitland Stewart, the oldest child and only son of Alexander and Elizabeth Stewart of Indiana, Pa., enlisted in the United States Army in 1941, he wasn’t like most privates. For one thing, he was already well into his 30s. For another, he had already been rejected by the military for being too skinny. (The first time around, he was five pounds under the Army’s weight standard for new recruits.) And finally, no other World War II inductee had won a Best Actor Oscar, as Stewart had for his performance as reporter Mike Connor in the 1940 classic, The Philadelphia Story.

Putting his Hollywood career on hold to join the Army Air Corps—a forerunner to today’s Air Force—Stewart ultimately reached the rank of colonel, making him one of few Americans ever to rise from private to colonel in four years. He flew dozens of combat missions, some as command pilot, on sorties deep into Nazi-occupied Europe, and returned from the war on the Queen Elizabeth, covered in medals including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal.

For the cover story of LIFE magazine’s September 24, 1945 issue, photographer Peter Stackpole followed Stewart as the Hollywood star and war hero returned to his hometown.

Jimmy Stewart and his dad outside the family hardware store, Indiana, Pa., 1945.

Jimmy Stewart and his dad outside the family hardware store, Indiana, Pa., 1945.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Jimmy Stewart and Family, 1945

Thirty-seven-year-old Jimmy Stewart sat down at the table with (clockwise from left) his younger sister Mary, his mother Elizabeth, his father Alexander, and his other younger sister, Virginia, 1945.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Jimmy Stewart 1945

Jimmy Stewart, home from the war, helped clear the table at his parents’ house, 1945.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Jimmy Stewart chats with George Little, the oldest employee in his father's hardware store, 1945. Besides all the usual hardware goods, the store also boasted Jimmy's Philadelphia Story Oscar on display.

“Jimmy Stewart chatted with George Little, the oldest employee in his father’s hardware store, 1945. Besides all the usual hardware goods, the store also boasted Jimmy’s “Philadelphia Story” Oscar on display.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Jimmy Stewart on the phone, 1945

While his father chatted with a customer at the hardware store, a uniformed Jimmy Stewart set up a date to go fishing, 1945.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Jimmy Stewart on the phone at his father's hardware store, 1945.

Jimmy Stewart on the phone at his father’s hardware store, 1945.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Jimmy Stewart goes fishing, 1945

Jimmy Stewart went fishing with his old friend Clyde “Woodie” Woodward, 1945.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Jimmy Stewart and friend, Indiana, Pa., 1945.

Jimmy Stewart and friend, Indiana, Pa., 1945.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

The house where Jimmy Stewart grew up in Indiana, Pa., about 50 miles from Pittsburgh, seen in 1945.

The house where Jimmy Stewart grew up in Indiana, Pa., about 50 miles from Pittsburgh, 1945.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

The movie star and war vet Jimmy Stewart signs autographs for local girls, Indiana, Pa., 1945.

Jimmy Stewart signed autographs in Indiana, Pa., 1945.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Col. Jimmy Stewart, 1945

Jimmy Stewart, 1945.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Jimmy Stewart and family, 1945

Jimmy kidded his father about the old days. His sister Mary (center on swing) was an artist and married to a chaplain in the Navy. His other sister Virginia (left) was a magazine writer and married to artist Alexis Tiranoff, who was in the Army.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Jimmy Stewart plays the piano with his sister, 1945

Jimmy Stewart plays the piano with his sister Virginia, 1945.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

James Stewart looks in his family's hardware store window and spots a model plane he'd built years earlier, 1945.

James Stewart looked in his family’s hardware store window and spotted a model plane he’d built years earlier, 1945.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Jimmy Stewart and stuffed squirrel

In 1945, Jimmy Stewart eyed a stuffed squirrel he’d shot years earlier. The creature was only “slightly moldy,” LIFE reported.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Jimmy Stewart and hand puppets, 1945

Visiting his hometown in 1945, Col. Jimmy Stewart played with a pair of puppets he made when he was seven years old.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Jimmy Stewart entertains some local children, Indiana, Pa., 1945.

Jimmy Stewart entertained some local children, Indiana, Pa., 1945.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Jimmy Stewart takes out his father's horse and shay, 1945.

Jimmy Stewart took out his father’s horse, 1945.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Magician Bill Neff wasn't just a friend of Stewart's; he once provided Jimmy with a summer job, when they "took a tour as magicians."

Magician Bill Neff wasn’t just a friend of Stewart’s; he once provided Jimmy with a summer job, when they “took a tour as magicians.”

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

James Stewart, back home after serving in World War II, reads in bed at his parents' house, Indiana, Pa., 1945.

James Stewart, back home after serving in World War II, read in bed at his parents’ house, Indiana, Pa., 1945.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Col. James Stewart: movie star, war hero, Indiana, Pa., 1945.

Jimmy Stewart, 1945.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

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