Miller time boosted war morale

Seventy-eight years ago today, Dec. 15, 1944, Maj, Glenn Miller, director of the American Band of the Allied Expeditionary Force boarded a C-64 Norseman single engine utility aircraft at RAF Base Twinwood.

Miller was in a hurry to reach Paris to finalize arrangements for his orchestra’s move to the continent. Transport Command flights on previous days had been canceled because of weather and now the earliest Miller could book a flight would be on Dec. 17. On Thursday afternoon when Lt. Col. Norman Baessell offered Miller a seat on his unscheduled flight to Paris the next day he jumped at the chance.

Dec. 15 was cold with rain falling on the Twinwood runways from low hanging gray clouds. The clouds were forecast to be even lower over the English Channel with possible icing conditions. After goodbyes the aircraft took off and headed east. The aircraft was last seen flying near the channel coast. It never reached Paris.

It had flown into the same low-pressure system that masked early German movements in the Battle of the Bulge. No one knows why the plane was lost but expert opinion focuses on either carburetor icing or general icing of the aircraft.

It was not until Monday, Dec. 18 when the orchestra flew into Orly Airport in Paris and found that Miller was not there to greet them that the allied command became aware that Miller was missing. Frantic efforts were made to find him and the plane but to no avail.

On Christmas Eve, an official announcement was made that Miller was missing.

Glenn Miller didn’t need to be there. He was 40 years old, married and the father of two children. In addition, he had bad eyesight that had led the Navy to reject his request for a commission.

For 3 1/2 years he had led the most popular dance band in the nation with a long string of hits, a three times a week radio show that had been renewed for three more years in 1942 and two successful movies with a contract for three more.

Miller had already been working to aid morale in the service. During late 1941 and early 1942 he had produced at his own expense a Saturday afternoon radio show on NBC called “Sunset Serenade” where five military installations were asked to pick their favorite song. Listeners were then asked to vote for their favorite of the five songs with the winning post receiving a radio-phonograph player purchased by Miller.

Miller disbanded his civilian band in September 1942 to accept a commission as a captain in the Army. In early 1943, he was named director of bands for the Army Air Forces Technical Training Command. He also began building an elite unit that he would command and direct that would be made up of not just the best jazz and big band musicians but also top personnel from symphony orchestras, including a complete string section. The band took shape at the at the AAFTTC school, at Yale University and in the summer of 1943 began broadcasting a series of programs from New York on the NBC radio network.

However, Miller wanted to do more. He wanted to take the band overseas closer to those doing the fighting. In early June 1944 it was announced that 62 members of the orchestra and staff would be traveling to England where it would become the “American Band of the Allied Expeditionary Force.”

After arriving in Great Britain in late June the orchestra began broadcasting a series of programs over the Allied Expeditionary Forces Program and the BBC that became popular not only with American troops but also the British public. In addition to broadcasting the band spent the summer and fall of 1944 traveling throughout Britain appearing at U.S. bases.

In November the decision was made to move the band to Paris where it would begin making appearances and broadcasting to allied troops on the continent and back to England. In mid-December Miller was scheduled to fly to Paris but bad weather intervened and an impatient Miller who did not even like flying made the decision to take that final fatal flight.

At the band’s final concert in Washington in November 1945 the emcee comedian Eddie Cantor said this of Miller; “Glenn Miller was a very wonderful man who led a very wonderful band. As a civilian, he led an orchestra that for three and a half years was the number one band in America. Glenn could have stayed here in America. He could have stayed and made himself a lot more money, and then, if he wanted to, he could have retired, an independently wealthy man. But he chose not to. He was an extremely patriotic man, and he felt an intense obligation to serve his country that had gone to war. So, he disbanded his great orchestra, and he formed an even greater one. Still, he could have remained here in America. But again, he chose not to. Instead, he chose to take himself and his orchestra overseas, to where he felt he could do the best for our fighting men. And what a tremendous morale-building job he and his men did over there….”

Had Glenn Miller survived the war there is little doubt that he would have been a major in figure in the music and entertainment industries. Miller was a solid jazz trombonist, although not a virtuoso like Tommy Dorsey. but he was an outstanding arranger, showman, and a leader of men who pushed the musical envelope with both his civilian and Air Force bands. Had he survived one has to wonder the direction that American popular music might have taken.

He was a true American hero.

Thomas Kirkpatrick Sr. is a Silver Creek resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com


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