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Senator Margaret Chase Smith Blocks Jimmy Stewart’s Promotion to Brigadier General

Margaret Chase Smith became a Congresswoman upon the demise of her husband, Clyde Harold Smith, whose position she filled in until she was elected to the senate where she spent the next 24 years of her political life as the only female senator. Known for her independent stance on various issues of her time, the senator gained the image of an inspiration and trail blazer, being the first woman to ever be elected senator. She openly opposed Senator John McCarthy’s open search for communists within American soil and portrayed the image of an independent thinking Republican. The woman was known in the political circle for her highly controversial stances regarding various issues. But none of which kept her in the spotlight longer than her move to block the promotion of a Hollywood actor who was serving as a reservist in the United States Air Force named Jimmy Stewart. Theirs was to be a battle of wills that would span 2 years and involve high ranking military officials and an American president before it would see a solid resolution that was amenable to all parties concerned.

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During the war time era of World War 2, all able bodied American men were called to active service in the name of freedom and equality. It was an honor to be called upon to serve within the military service and those who willingly did so were rewarded amply by the military and government by giving the man a military rank worthy of the time spent and services rendered in any particular military branch. However, not all officers who were promoted had seen active duty. In fact, there were quite a few who were merely reservists and did not see active combat duty. These reservists however, were allowed to climb the military ranks while still keeping their reservist status once they had met the proper training criteria as set for the reservists. These reservists would need to complete the same criteria as the active duty officers. Activities which included, but were not limited to, completing an active tour of duty and training time in their armed forces branch of choice.

One such reservist, who wished to climb the ranks prior to his retiring from active reservist status was Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart whose name came up for promotion for the first time in 1957. However, his promotion was blocked twice by Senator Margaret Chase Smith of the Senate Armed Services Committee for a number of notable reasons which then Colonel Stewart was unable to defend against. Some of the questions she posed before the committee pertained to Colonel Stewart’s ability to lead as an officer. How could he lead when an in-depth investigation of his military record showed questionable training time? Had he served an actual active duty time at all? Did he complete any combat flight training? Was he capable of leading missions or called upon to do so? Did he actually understand what his responsibilities and duties currently were and would be if he were to be approved for promotion? Sadly, there was nothing in the in-depth record of Colonel Jimmy Stewart that made Senator Chase Smith confident that he would be able to execute the tasks that would be placed upon his shoulders should he be confirmed as a Brigadier General.

Authenticated records of Col. Stewart’s actual Air Force flying history reveals that the military hierarchy was trying to get him promoted using his celebrity status rather than his actual “time and training in service” credentials. His service record seemed to have passed through the creative writing team of the air force as their declarations of his actual pilot designation and work assignment seemed to change with the criteria he needed to fulfill in order to receive his promotion. It was because of these glaring errors and dubious information that Senator Margaret Chase Smith, at that time a WAF reservist herself and the lone female senator in that session of congress, decided to openly oppose his promotion to Brigadier General until he could prove himself worthy of the title by fulfilling the actual duty assignment requirements for the said position.

In order to fully understand why she was opposed to his promotion, we have to first understand that during the time that Col. Stewart was actively seeking the promotion, Hollywood had done a great deal to help boost the image of the Air Force amongst the common folk who had to stay home instead of being on the battlefront. As payback, it seems that the powers that be in the military service were willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that the person they wanted to promote was not actually promotable simply because it would have been good for the military image to have a celebrity in the position of “Brigadier General.”

All of this would have been well enough had they actually bothered to plug the holes in the military service of one of Hollywood’s best actors of the time. Senator Chase Smith, who was part of the committee which oversaw such rank promotions went over his service record with a fine tooth comb and discovered that the Air Force was actually making a mockery of the promotions criteria by even suggesting that Col. Stewart be promoted to such a highly sensitive and difficult rank.

No matter how she looked at it, the fact remained that the Air Force, whether with or without the cooperation of Col. Stewart, faked the contents of his service record with the apparent intention of appealing to his fans in order to make the US Air Force look good. It is said that Senator Chase Smith had openly opposed Gen. Emmet O’Donnell and won in respect to the Col. JImmy Stewart promotion.

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His service record was doctored to read anything but what he actually did within military service. For example, they claimed that he was actively participating in flight efforts during the war by flying such heavy weight flying machines such as the B-47 and B-52. The reality was that at the time of the committee hearing, then Col. Stewart had yet to accomplish his 15 day active tour of duty and complete any flight hours that would allow him to take command of such important war time planes.

For Col. Stewart, the Air Force made sure that their civilian arm, the Air Force Association, would constantly paint their candidate in the best possible manner while trying to discredit Senator Chase Smith as best as they could within the printed media. Oftentimes portraying her as a difficult woman who was simply trying to survive in the man’s world of politics. The Air Force propaganda meant to promote the Colonel as a highly trained and admirable World War 2 soldier / reservist found the senator besieged by hate mail from all over the United States calling the likes of an “impulsively retaliative nincompoop” and a woman doing a disservice to her country did not work to sway her from her beliefs as to what makes any military officer a capable and promotable one.

But no matter how negatively they painted her, the woman had, not only the backing of her fellow senators and Armed Services Committee members Clair Engel of California and Howard Cannon of Nevada, who were at the time reserve WAF and a qualified jet pilot respectively, but also the support of the thousands of other Air Force reservists who, although more qualified than Stewart, would have been passed over in promotions by the less qualified D ranking pilot celebrity.

Some of the evidence unearthed by Senator Chase Smith included the fact that Col. Stewart’s active training status was misrepresented in the Washington Daily News where the Air Force Association made pronouncements that he “trained actively with the reserve every year and that he was “first pilot” of a B-52 “. According to the results of the committee investigation, Col. Stewart was ” not the first pilot of a B-52 but he was not even current or qualified on any military aircraft.” In fact, his current flight ranking at the time was a lowly D and his classification was merely as a “pilot”.

The aforementioned information was quite disturbing for the senator who insisted that all candidates for promotion must fall within the previously set criteria for the various ranks listed. In Colonel Stewart’s case, he had never served active duty nor trained in any aircraft since September 1945. In fact, the colonel had only served 9 days within an 11 year period. By July 1956, his handlers had tried to paint the opposing senator in a bad light as he served a 15 day active duty tour.

It was the full intention of Gen. O’Donnell’s office to keep the glamorous image of Col. Stewart as an exemplary Air Force pilot in the spotlight. Therefore, misinformation became part of their campaign to get him the Brigadier General star. Unfortunately, the general was placed in the humiliating position of having to contradict himself and retract his statements when he found himself in a spot during the committee hearing and having to answer the well researched questions of Senator Chase Smith. In fact, it can be said that it was actually General O’Donnell who lost the promotion for the colonel in 1957 because of his ill-advised effort to cover up the actual credentials of the candidate for promotion. As a result of this fiasco, Colonel Stewart was sent to fulfill part of his training Loring Air Force Base at Limestone, Maine as well.

Senator Chase Smith had no choice but to continue opposing the promotion of Colonel Stewart each time his name came up in the promotions roster because the colonel, along with his supporters in the Air Force continued to defy the rules for promotion. Colonel Stewart continued his defiant stance on the matter when he trained for only 8 days of his required 15 day training period in 1957 for an “unexpected business commitment” which turned out to be a 3 month long Tiger Safari in India.

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This continued act of defiance on the part of Col. Stewart only served to further fuel the belief of Senator Chase Smith that the Air Force was using celebrities to garner popularity and support among the common folk while sacrificing the other 1900 other colonels who were more fitting and deserving of promotion to Brigadier General. Eventually, the Air Force decided to drop the issue and regroup. The war between Senator Margaret Chase Smith and Colonel Jimmy Stewart was far from over. The senator stood her ground, regardless of the hate mail she received from people who thought that she was not promoting the colonel on the mere basis of his being an actor, which could not be further from the truth, and Colonel Stewart and his allies were also forced to regroup and rethink their strategy since they really wanted to see him promoted to a one star general status.

General O’Donnell argued that promotions should not be based upon attendance records but rather on the contributions that one makes to the Air Force. However, Senator Chase Smith saw a different kind of reason for the heavy push to promote the actor. He starred in an Air Force propaganda film entitled “Strategic Air Command”. The promotion was most likely an extension of the Air Force machinery designed to entice Air Force candidates to enlist. What better way to promote the cause than to have a real life hero in a position he could have only effectively acted out in the movies?

Even though the actor still lacked the mandatory training criteria, those in positions of power within the military and government continued to pursue his promotion to the position of a one star general. Completely ignoring the reasons as to why Senator Chase Smith was so highly opposed to Colonel Stewart’s promotion in the first place.

So it happened that his name once again came up for promotional consideration in the list that was submitted by then President Eisenhower 2 years after Senator Chase Smith had previously blocked his promotion to Brigadier General. The powers that be at the Air Force had, by now, changed enough of Col. Stewart’s credentials to make him a more viable candidate for promotion. In order to insure that Col. Stewart’s record would read as a more qualified and trained officer this time around to the good senator, he found himself reassigned from the position of Deputy Chief of SAC to Chief of Staff of the Fifteenth Air Force. His flight hours and training problem was addressed by simply indicating that he had been tested in flight for SAC bombers.

The year was now 1961 and Colonel Stewart had finally gotten serious about completing his Air Force Reservist training credentials in order to actually become a viable candidate for promotion to the status of Brigadier General. In what had now shaped into a battle of the sexes, Colonel Jimmy Stewart finally caved in and bent to the will of Senator Margaret Chase Smith.

As part of his campaign to be taken seriously by the Senate Armed Forces Committee head, he finally completed all his flight time requirements by June 30 of the same year. Since this was all that the principled senator had been asking him and his supporters to do from the very start of the issue, she had no problems with finally approving his promotion once his unquestionable credentials were finally presented to her.

There was a tremendous amount of speculation going around at the time after the Colonel finally got his star, that the senator was previously blocking his promotion due to some personal anger she carried for him. In fact, the newly appointed General Stewart could not help but voice out the same during one of his many newspaper interviews after his promotion became official. The actor went on to explain that he understood her reasons for opposing his promotion. She feared he was untrained for the position he was to assume so it would have been unfair to approve his promotion when there were other, more highly qualified Air Force Reservists who could fill in the slot and do the job properly.

According to General Stewart, Senator Chase Smith failed to understand that he was not being promoted for an active combat duty position since he was an aging reservist. It would have been impossible for him to complete the actual required flight training time for a B-52 bomber because of his slowing reflexes. Instead, he was being promoted in order to assume what we in modern times would view as a Public Relations post within the Air Force that would act as the bridge between the military and the civilians who were considering a career in the Air Force.

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At the end of this case study, what has become clear is that Senator Margaret Chase Smith was not opposing the promotion of an actor to a position of rank within the military. Instead, she was opposing the practice of the military that allowed them to exploit certain kinds of servicemen for the benefit of the military even though they are ill prepared to take on the task that is being thrust upon their shoulders. In the point of view of Senator Chase Smith, this is exactly what was happening to Colonel Jimmy Stewart and she in effect, trying to protect him, the military, and the civilians, from having an untrained person in a position of responsibility that he is ill equipped to handle.

We will never know which parts of Colonel Jimmy Stewart’s military service record is on the record, and which parts are embellishments meant for publicity purposes. These embellishments were the reason that his promotion was being opposed by the members of the senate committee as well as the other reservist colonel officers who had better training, but none of the political and military backing that Colonel Stewart had displayed.

Admittedly, the celebrity status of Colonel Stewart had its benefits for the Air Force. However, the questions that the senator raised about his qualifications have left lingering doubts as to his actual ability to perform in his position as the Deputy Director of Operations at SAC Headquarters.

This case study serves to prove that political backing is a highly influential tool within the military trade. With the proper connections, even the most ill trained person can rise through the ranks. The only condition for their promotion seems to be based upon the principle of give and take. Also, this proves that we cannot believe everything we read about in the newspapers. Especially when it comes to celebrities. Who would have thought that all of the heroism portrayed by the papers as being initiated by Hollywood actors could have been just that? All part of an act to play up the importance of military service in a nation at war.


  1. Allen, Robert S. (1959). Air force again under attack. Quincy Patriot Ledger, N.A.
  2. Horowitz, Robert. (1961). Senator Smith and Jimmy Stewart. Military Digest, N.A.
  3. Pearson, Drew. (1959). There is nothing like a beautiful lady to upset. Washington Post, N.A.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 23). Senator Margaret Chase Smith Blocks Jimmy Stewart’s Promotion to Brigadier General.

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"Senator Margaret Chase Smith Blocks Jimmy Stewart’s Promotion to Brigadier General." StudyCorgi, 23 Nov. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "Senator Margaret Chase Smith Blocks Jimmy Stewart’s Promotion to Brigadier General." November 23, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Senator Margaret Chase Smith Blocks Jimmy Stewart’s Promotion to Brigadier General." November 23, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Senator Margaret Chase Smith Blocks Jimmy Stewart’s Promotion to Brigadier General." November 23, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Senator Margaret Chase Smith Blocks Jimmy Stewart’s Promotion to Brigadier General'. 23 November.

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