Seventy years ago, World War II was drawing to a close in Europe. More than 400,000 Americans serving in the military lost their lives in the conflict. One of those servicemen was one of the biggest names in music.
“Between 1939 and 1942, he had 59 ‘Top 10’ hits. To this day, he has more songs in the ‘Top 10’ than any other artist,” says Rick Finch, sharing the story of Glenn Miller, the hometown hero of Clarinda, Iowa.
Miller loved music from an early age, so much so he missed events others considered quite important. “When he graduated from high school, his mom received his diploma because he was out playing a gig,” Finch says.
Miller’s band rose to stardom just before the U.S. entered World War II. Many of his hits including “Moonlight Serenade” and “In the Mood” are still played today. However, many Americans don’t know the story behind the man who wrote them and the sacrifice he made during the war.
At 38, he was too old to be drafted. He volunteered for the Navy but was turned down. He was determined to join the military though and eventually persuaded the Army to accept him so he could bring his music to the troops.
“In 1942, at the peak of his popularity, he was making $15,000 to $20,000 per week,” Finch says. He gave it all up to join the military.
At first, Miller and his band were stationed stateside in the Army Air Corps, raising more than $10 million playing for war bond rallies.
In December 1944, Miller got permission to play a Christmas event in Paris for troops. He went ahead of the band to prepare for the show and accepted a ride on a small plane without authorization. Three days later, the band arrived in France, but there was no trace of Miller. The plane carrying Miller, Lt. Colonel Norman Baessel and the pilot had disappeared into the English channel.
Today, Miller’s hometown tells his story through an impressive museum, which Finch helps oversee. It’s a testament to one of America’s greatest musicians who gave his life playing for troops seven decades ago.