His dad ran a hardware store in the small town of Indiana, Pennsylvania.
When war broke out in Europe young Jim was eager to enlist. Even though Pearl Harbor was months away, he knew he had to do something.
Jim was 32 and had already earned a degree in architecture from Princeton. He talked with his dad, himself a veteran of the Spanish American War and World War I.
The father understood – they had come from a long line of soldiers and patriots. He didn’t try to talk Jim out of it.
When he flunked his physical because at 6’ 3” and 138 pounds he was five pounds under the weight requirement, Jim went home and ate everything in sight. Even then, he had to have a friend tip the scales in order to make it.
On the day Jim shipped out for the Air Force as a B-24 bomber pilot, his dad, a staunch Presbyterian, quietly slipped a note and another piece of paper into Jim’s uniform pocket.
After he left home, he opened the note from his dad:
“My dear Jim-Boy, soon after you read this letter, you will be on your way to the worst of danger. Jim, I am banking on the enclosed copy of the 91st Psalm. The thing that takes the place of fear and worry is the promise of these words. I feel sure that God will lead you through this mad experience. I can say no more. I only continue to pray. Goodbye, my dear. God continue to bless and keep you. I love you more than I can tell you. Dad”
Jim read the psalm.
“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress; my God; in him will I trust.” (Psalm 91: 1-2, KJV).
These beautiful words, rendered more so in the King James Version, are among the most beloved and familiar found in the scriptures. They have comforted millions for centuries. Jim found comfort in them now – and in his dad’s love and prayers.
“Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler”, the psalmist writes, “and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler” (verses 3- 4).
Throughout these 16 verses are found strong encouragement and confidence for every man, woman and child who places his full trust in the Almighty God. It is the most glorious song of Divine protection and security in the Bible. It is bold and unequivocal in its declarations.
We find no hedging qualifiers anywhere in this great psalm.
You may be surrounded by terror at night and dodging fiery arrows by day. Yet even with danger all around you, “thou shalt not be afraid” (verse 5). Though thousands may fall to the right and left of you, “it shall not come nigh thee” (verse 7).
“Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation” (verse 9).
In the daily spiritual wars of our souls and our lives and in the wars of our world, El Shaddai, the Almighty God Who sustains and protects, will protect and sustain you and me.
No matter what we’re facing.
No matter how terrifying the foe or frightening the crisis, the God Who protects “shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone” (verses 11-12).
At God’s command you and I are supported by the angels of heaven.
Jim carefully folded the psalm up and placed it back in his pocket.
Through 20 combat missions in some of the fiercest fighting the world had ever known, Jim carried that 91st Psalm with him. When the war was over, he had earned six battle stars, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and the Croix de Guerre with Palm.
He was uninjured.
Reflecting on his war experience years later, Jim said of the Psalm:
“What a promise for an airman. I placed in His hands the squadron I would be leading. And, as the psalmist promised, I felt myself borne up.”
After the war, Jim served in the Air Force Reserve, rising to the rank of Brigadier General. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in 1968 and in 1985 President Ronald Reagan presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The irony of it all is that Jim Stewart didn’t need to serve in World War II. He had already been nominated for an Academy Award in 1939 for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and won it in 1940 for his role in The Philadelphia Story.
America and the world will always remember James Stewart. He never referred to himself as Jimmy, but we did and always will. When he died at the age of 89, the President of the United States hailed him as “a national treasure … a great actor, a gentleman and a patriot.”
On Jimmy Stewart’s gravestone are carved these words:
“For He shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways”.