Major Glenn Miller
Remember Glenn Miller, the noted composer, arranger, trombonist, and Big Band leader? Maj. Alton Glenn Miller, U.S. Army Air Corps has been missing in action since Dec. 15, 1944. Miller was eligible for a memorial headstone in Arlington National Cemetery as a service member who died on active duty whose remains were not recoverable. At his daughter's request, a stone was placed in Memorial Section H, Number 464-A on Wilson Drive in Arlington National Cemetery in April 1992.
During World War II, Glenn Miller's Army Air Force Band, forerunner of the Airmen of Note, entertained more than a million troops. Maj. Miller combined military and musical precision to create a band which many say was even better than his civilian band. Considered the father of modern military music, Miller should also be remembered as an American patriot.
The Glenn Miller Orchestra on the Home Front
The Glenn Miller Orchestra was America's most popular band from 1939 to 1941. On the Feb. 10, 1942 Chesterfield radio broadcast, RCA Victor presented Miller the first gold record ever awarded, honoring the 1,200,000th sale of "Chattanooga Choo-Choo."
The famous band leader supported the U.S. armed forces through radio broadcasts and performances nationwide. He also gave free records and radio-phonographs to U.S. military camps. At the peak of his civilian career, Miller decided he could better serve those in uniform by putting one on himself.
Too old to be drafted, Glenn Miller (age 38) volunteered for the Navy. The Navy could not use the band leader's services. Undaunted, Miller persuaded the Army to accept him so he could "put a little more spring into the feet of our marching men and a little more joy into their hearts... [and be] placed in charge of a modernized army band." Miller ultimately joined the Army Air Corps as a captain in the Army of the United States.
Glenn Miller Plays the States
Capt. Miller's mission was morale-building, bringing a touch of home to the troops, and modernizing military music. He was also a talented fund raiser, and raised millions of dollars in War Bond drives.
Besides arranging music, Miller created and directed his own band. Capt. Miller selected servicemen who had belonged to the best bands in the United States to build a special 50-member band, the 418th Army Air Force Band at Yale University on March 20, 1943. Their post duties included reveille, taps, march, retreat, and entertainment.
Miller attracted Air Corps recruits through his "I Sustain the Wings" weekly radio broadcast. To open "Wings" on June 10, 1944, Capt. Glenn Miller reported, "It's been a big week for our side. Over on the beaches of Normandy our boys have fired the opening guns of the long awaited drive to liberate the world."
Glenn Miller Overseas
His distinguished Army Air Force Band was attached to the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, London, and was quartered at Milton Ernest near Bedford, England.
It is not an exaggeration to report that every band member owed his life to Glenn Miller. When the band arrived in London, they were quartered at 25 Sloane Court. Unfortunately, this was in the middle of "Buzz Bomb Alley," an area of sleepless nights because of the constant barrage of German V-1 bombs. Miller arranged for new quarters and transportation to move to Bedford on Sunday, July 2, 1944. The next morning, a buzz bomb landed in front of their old quarters, destroyed the building, and killed more than 100 people. None were Miller band members. Miller told band manager Lt. Don Haynes, "As long as [the Miller Luck] stays with us, we have nothing to worry about."
Glenn Miller wrote a friend that in one month "we played at 35 different bases and during our 'spare time' did 40 broadcasts." His Allied Expeditionary Forces Band spent 18 hours a day recording and performing. Miller's hard work was recognized when he was promoted to major July 24, 1944.
It was an honor for Miller to christen a B-17G bomber named after his famous theme song, "Moonlight Serenade" in Knettishall, England, Aug. 25, 1944. However, the aircraft was shot down Sept. 5, 1944.
Lt. Haynes was the last person to see Maj. Miller alive. Miller took his manager's place on the Dec. 15, 1944, flight from Twinwood Farm air field to Paris, France, to arrange for the band's appearance. Flight Officer John Morgan piloted the Norseman UC-64 with Miller and Lt. Col. Norman F. Baessell aboard. Morgan took off despite the foggy weather. The plane never reached France and was never found.
Glenn Miller's Legacy
The band performed the scheduled Christmas broadcast from Paris under the direction of Jerry Gray. Glenn Miller's Army Air Force Band continued successfully. Its last concert was on Nov. 13, 1945, at the National Press Club dinner for President Harry Truman in Washington, D.C., where Gens. Dwight Eisenhower and Hap Arnold thanked the band for a job well done. To the delight of many listeners, Glenn Miller's Big Band Swing music became an institution as Miller wished.
Maj. Glenn Miller earned the following awards: Bronze Star Medal, World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, European, African and Middle Eastern Campaign Medal; Marksman Badge with Carbine and Pistol Bars.
Bronze Star Medal Citation
"Major Alton Glenn Miller (Army Serial No. 0505273), Air Corps, United States Army, for meritorious service in connection with military operations as Commander of the Army Air Force Band (Special), from 9 July 1944 to 15 December 1944. Major Miller, through excellent judgment and professional skill, conspicuously blended the abilities of the outstanding musicians, comprising the group, into a harmonious orchestra whose noteworthy contribution to the morale of the armed forces has been little less than sensational. Major Miller constantly sought to increase the services rendered by his organization, and it was through him that the band was ordered to Paris to give this excellent entertainment to as many troops as possible. His superior accomplishments are highly commendable and reflect the highest credit upon himself and the armed forces of the United States."
by Kathryn Shenkle, Historian, Arlington National Cemetery
Back to top