Glenn Miller was a lot more than a musician for the 'greatest generation'
We remember this weekend that Glenn Miller disappeared over The English Channel 69 years ago. His plane was lost in route to Paris, where he was going to play for the troops that had just liberated France.
We don't know much about his disappearance but there are some reports that his small plane may have been hit by RAF bombers dropping their bombs into the waters of channel, or the "friendly fire" theory. In other words, he was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Glenn Miller's influence went beyond music as any veteran from that period will tell you. He was too old to be drafted at 38 but he joined the service anyway:
"Getting his band off the ground was not an easy feat, but Miller and his band caught a break when Gen. Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, visited Miller's unit.
Miller was called into his commanding officer's office, where Arnold was sitting. Miller's commander was getting ready to fire the band leader in front of Arnold when the general stopped him, saying Miller's music was "my kind of music."
Miller responded by telling Arnold the band could play at a national level and even travel overseas, according to Chivalette.
"He wanted to bring his brand of music to the war effort, but not everyone liked that type of music," he said. "He had to fight a lot of prejudices to do his music. Obviously, things have to roll up the proper chain of command, but sometimes it helps when Hap Arnold likes your style." Chivalette said Arnold gave the band leader "free rein" in recruiting members for his new band - 38 of the nation's best musicians from 475 continental bases.
Miller and his orchestra toured nonstop during the war. During the 14 months the band was active, they played in 11 overseas countries, performed 505 radio broadcasts, gave 353 personal appearances and took part in 956 morale-raising activities to more than two million troops in combat zones and garrison areas, said Chivalette.
The effort paid off. "The band helped the war effort. It made people want to join. It helped with recruiting. They created the greatest orchestra of its time in the military. Their performances were wonderful. He truly had rock star status," he said.
"There were areas that they were sent to that were right up on the front lines," said Chivalette. "One particular show they played in England, bombs began to fall but they continued playing. They really boosted morale."
When discussing Miller's career, Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, a commander and Medal of Honor recipient, said, "Next to a letter from home, that organization was the greatest morale builder in the European Theater of Operations."
He made a huge difference in the life and times of GI's far way and desperately looking for some connection with the homeland.
I recall a World War II veteran one time saying to me: "A letter from my girl, news about the Brooklyn Dodgers and Glenn Miller's music on the radio. My 3 favorite things on a ship in the Pacific."
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