Ray Stewart is a 93-year-old veteran of World War II. He spent the war as a tank gunner and driver. Three years ago, he was asked to consult for a movie about the war. As part of the job, he got to meet actor Brad Pitt. What might have been a thrill for many was lost on Ray Stewart; he had never heard of Brad Pitt.
Something that was really moving for him occurred more recently. While giving a seminar, he was surprised when he was presented with the Order of St. George by the US Cavalry and Armor Association. “It was definitely something I wasn’t expecting.”
When Stewart was 19, he was drafted into the Army and assigned to the 2nd Armored “Hell on Wheels” Division. He landed on Omaha Beach on June 9, 1944, and set off with his crew on a 1000-mile journey to Berlin.
Along the way, they fought in many battles, including the Battle of the Bulge. He helped fight the German 2nd Panzer Division in that battle. Two of the tanks he was on were destroyed.
Two months ago, Stewart was invited to the 2016 Maneuver Warfighter Conference at Fort Benning. He was called to the front of the room along with several other WWII veterans. One of the three Army generals there had a sword. He used the sword to “knight” the veterans in the name of St. George. The veterans were presented with medallions. Stewart received the Bronze medallion which honors officers and non-commissioned officers who serve in a leadership or command position.
The US Cavalry and Armor Association was started in 1885 by a small group of cavalry officers in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The organization evolved along with the military as horses were replaced by tanks and other armored vehicles. It’s mission, though, remained to celebrate the military arts and sciences, with special attention to mounted maneuver in ground warfare.
Stewart remains active in his hometown of Gastonia. He attends the regular meetings of the VFW Post 9337. He shared the story of his most recent award with the other post members this month. Members felt that Stewart was very deserving of the honor.
He’s one of four surviving members of his 2nd Armored Division tank crew. The experiences he had in the war led to him becoming a consultant for the 2014 movie “Fury.” The movie follows a fictional tank crew as they make the final push into Germany at the end of the war.
Producers of the film flew Stewart and his wife to Hollywood where Stewart met with Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf to tell them about his wartime experiences. Before that meeting, Stewart had no idea who Brad Pitt was, Gaston Gazette reported.
“I still have a lot of memories,” he said of his time in the war. “I really tried to get out of it, to begin with, because I was a young fellow.”
“But any time you go through a war from D-Day, all the way through Europe, down into the Bulge, across the Rhine River and around the German industrial area, it sticks with you. It took almost a year to do it.”