Aviation, History, Music, Stamps, War

New Light on Miller Death

Click to see original imageThe disappearance of Glenn Miller, noted American band leader and Army Air Force major, in a single- engine plane on a London-to-Paris flight 41 years ago continues as one of the lingering mysteries of World War II.

It still pops into the news once in a while – as it did in a recent press dispatch on a theory of how Miller’s plane was downed by bombs being jettisoned over the English Channel when an Allied bombing mission to Germany was aborted because of foul weather.

The musician, the pilot and another military man who accompanied them were last seen Dec 15, 1944, as their small Norsman D-64 disappeared in a thick fog.

Miller fans everywhere were shocked by the tragedy. Many remembered how the band leader and trombonist of the late thirties and early forties had put aside civilian fame and fortune at the height of his career and enlisted “to pay a debt of gratitude to my country.”

The military took advantage of Miller’s music talents. Ultimately he was assigned to London where he developed his flying American Band into a superb musical organization that presented 528 broadcasts and 435 personal appearances.

Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower was moved to say: “Next to a letter from home, the Miller Band is the best morale builder in the European Theater.”

When the Allies landed in Normandy in June, 1944, Miller promised the GIs a Christmas concert in Paris. His fateful disappearance resulted from his follow-up on that promise as he headed for France to complete arrangements for the event.

The recent news account said Alan Ross of the British Glenn Miller Appreciation Society told newsmen the theory that bombs from a British plane downed Miller’s craft began with reminiscences by Fred H. Shaw, war-time navigator of a Lancaster bomber who now lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.

It seems Straw saw the movie. “The Glenn Miller Story” years ago and this “set him thinking.” When he checked his logbook he realized Millers plane disappeared the same day the bombing flight jettisoned its cargo over the channel.

Shaw wrote the Ministry of Defense but his theory was dismissed.

Questions continued. Ross sought out Victor Gregory, the Lancaster’s pilot, who corroborated Shaw’s story and said there were 138 bombers on the flight, some carrying immense 4,000-pound bombs.

Gregory told the Associated Press his crew had seen a small plane enter the jettison area, that “curl over and plunge into the sea,” apparently knocked down by shock waves from the bombs.

Time has a way of dimming and wiping out memories. But such news stories help keep the band leaders fame flicker posthumously.

One of the best reminders of the Miller legend is his continuing musical legacy. His band’s records of “sweet music and swing” – featuring a distinctive sound achieved by blending a clarinet with four saxophones – still spin on the turntables.

Such records as “Moonlight Serenade,” “In the Mood,'” “Little Brown Jug,” “On Moonlight Bay” and “Sweet Leilani” have never lost their appeal.

“The Glenn Miller Story” movie starting James Stewart was produced a decade after the musicians death and has touched countless people.

Another reminder is the effort by the folk in Miller’s home town of Clarinda, Iowa, to have the US. Postal Service issue a commemorative stamp memorializing Miller.

Before writing this column, I checked the progress of the commemorative stamp project with the office of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who introduced the necessary legislation a few years ago.

‘The request was shelved after study by the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee, but it has been re-submitted for new consideration. As a Glenn Miller fan from “way back” and one who deeply admired the band leader’s patriotism, my plea would be: Let’s have the  stamp!