Composer, trombonist and bandleader Major Glenn Miller (1904-1944) has been called the father of modern military music. During World War II, Miller's Army Air Force Band entertained more than a million troops. Missing in action since December 15, 1944, Miller was eligible for a memorial headstone in Arlington National Cemetery as a service member who died on active duty and whose remains were not recovered. At his daughter's request, a stone was placed in Memorial Section H, Site 464-A in April 1992.
From 1939 to 1941, the Glenn Miller Orchestra was America's most popular band. Miller received 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 that he could better serve those in uniform by putting one on himself. Too old to be drafted, the 38-year-old Miller volunteered for the Navy, only to be told that the Navy could not use the bandleader's services. Undaunted, Miller persuaded the Army to accept him so that 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 U.S. Army Air Corps as a captain. His mission, in addition to modernizing military music, was to build morale.
In 1943, Miller created and directed the 418th Army Air Force Band, recruiting servicemen who had belonged to the best bands in the United States. Attached to the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in London, the 50-member ensemble spent up to 18 hours a day recording and performing. In one month, Miller wrote to a friend, "we played at 35 different bases and during our 'spare time' did 40 broadcasts." The Army rewarded Miller's hard work by promoting him to major in July 1944.
On December 15, 1944, Miller took his manager's place on a flight from Bedford, England to Paris, where he would be arranging for the band to perform. The pilot took off despite foggy weather, and the plane disappeared over the English channel. Its fate remains a mystery.
The 418th Army Air Force Band played its last concert on November 13, 1945, at a dinner for President Harry Truman in Washington, D.C. Its legacy continues with the Airmen of Note, an Air Force ensemble created in 1950, and many other military bands that still perform Miller's songs and arrangements. Decades after World War II, Big Band swing music remains a beloved American musical tradition.
Maj. Glenn Miller earned multiple service awards, including (posthumously) a Bronze Star. According to the medal citation, "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."
Memorial Section H, Site 464-A