History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Glenn Miller's death shrouded in speculation

Glenn Miller's music is like a theme for World War Two. How distinctive it was: the saxophones, trumpets and trombones in flowing melodies. How different it was from the music that took hold among America's youth just a decade or so later.
The music had structure and restraint.
The "big band era" was pretty confined in history. The guitars and amplifiers took over.
Miller didn't live long enough to see the change. As a kid I learned this through "The Glenn Miller Story," a perfect biopic. Perfect it was, but it was sad at the end. Miller literally disappeared into the fog. He was in a UC-64 Norseman aircraft heading over the English channel.
Air travel was questionable on that day. Other flights were grounded or so I have read. World War 2 was heading into its last ugly stages. Germany was fighting to its death.
The Glenn Miller big band was busy as a morale builder. I personally wonder how much the troops really cared about this. Perhaps it was more important back home, where we could learn of our culture asserting itself overseas. "The band played on" even with the German "buzz bombs" flying overhead. Such a scene was re-created in "The Glenn Miller Story."
But was the bandleader involved in more than just music? It's hard to know what to accept as fact as I read online. Was Miller really fluent in German and broadcasting propaganda messages to Germany? Was he enlisted to carry peace feelers from "Ike" Eisenhower to German generals who were eager to end the war so as to prevent total destruction of their country?
An assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler had gone awry.
One theory has Miller flying from near Versailles, France, to German army headquarters in Fichtenheim through the Ruhr "flak zone." A spy reveals these plans to the German diehards. Miller is captured and subjected to the misery of such an episode. He is interrogated and dispatched, and his body ends up deposited in a Paris brothel.
The Paris brothel story by itself has been out there a while. I think I first heard it on Tom Snyder's "Tomorrow Show." Such talk was perfect fare for that show which was a pioneer in its approach. Television up until then had been pretty scripted and sanitized. Conspiracy talk with little foundation would have been frowned upon. Heck, is anything frowned upon today? Jesse Ventura develops a whole TV brand based on conspiracies.
The Tomorrow Show was cutting edge for the 1970s. Many boomers like me found it appealing. We heard about Miller possibly dying of a heart attack in a Paris brothel. But such a story couldn't possibly be allowed to come out. It's certainly an untidy story but it wouldn't make me doubt Miller's status as a 100 percent wartime hero. Bill Clinton learned how to overcome such matters.
We'll put these theories on the periphery only as possibilities. It's hard to rule anything out because war can obscure the truth in a big way. The most comforting explanation to accept is that Miller's plane developed icing and went down. Planes can be a curse for musicians. As a kid I lost a musical idol like this: Bill Chase, the trumpet player.
Chase's plane went down in southern Minnesota. He was a jazz-rock fusion artist with a full trumpet section. He had previously played with Woody Herman who had a big band exactly like Miller's. Herman toured with his band until he was quite up in years, but it wasn't completely retro because he adjusted the style to be a little more contemporary.
Chase was barely making it financially with his band at the time of his death. There were rumors he might go back to Woody. We can only wonder in what direction such a gifted musical mind would go. Ditto with Miller.
There is another special theory about Miller's death that is not out in the periphery. It's the "friendly fire" explanation. Friendly fire is obviously one of the most disturbing aspects of war. Many informed people are convinced today Miller's plane was taken down by the percussive effect from bombs being jettisoned from an abortive raid on Siegen, Germany. British scholars feel quite convinced. These were Royal Air Force bombs dropped over the English Channel.
There is a friendly fire theory that has it Miller's plane was simply shot down. Miller disappeared in December of 1944. He entered the service in 1942 when he was 38 years old. He was a top-selling artist from 1939 to 1943.
I have read he was "German speaking." I'm not sure what all to believe, though. I'm not sure how much weight to assign a story that Miller was a victim of something called "Operation Greif." The Germans launched "Operation Greif" as their fortunes were clearly crumbling. That's why it had a guerrilla type of approach. The idea was to stir up panic behind Allied lines, unleashing soldiers in captured Allied uniforms and vehicles.
I'm reminded of one of my favorite WWII movies: "The Bridge at Remagen." The movie showed Germany in pathetic disarray as the vise closed. One of the German characters says to another: "A dying animal begins to bite at its own wounds."
American troops were warned they were in "Indian country," meaning there were detached German units out and about. Not that Indian tactics are to be dismissed. Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest fought much of the U.S. Civil War this way. His troops shot from behind trees. Sure sounds preferable to the standard Civil War tactics.
With the normal military organization breaking down, one really has to watch your back. The American troops in the movie were fooled by a sign that was tampered with. I thought Robert Vaughn did a masterful acting job. He was a German officer but one with a sense of humanity. He had to walk this tightrope of a character. This character was executed at the end as the Nazis continued to "bite at their wounds."
The "Operation Greif" story in connection to Miller had him meeting with "Ike" in Paris in the winter of 1944. Again we're assuming Miller went beyond leading his band as a morale builder. The awful Battle of the Bulge, Germany's last-gasp offensive, was in the winter of 1944-45. Perhaps Miller was readying for more radio propaganda work.
"The Bridge at Remagen" was a bridge the Vaughn character was sent to destroy, but he decided to delay so as to evacuate a substantial number of German troops back into Germany. The Allies ended up seizing the bridge which saved many of our lives. Germany was in disarray and would have been best served just desisting. But Germany's top leaders were already doomed at this time. They insisted on fighting to the finish with horrific results for all.
It is suggested an "Operation Greif" unit was sent to kidnap or kill Eisenhower in Paris. It almost succeeded. Eisenhower was spirited away in an armored vehicle, so the story goes, but Miller was mortally wounded. He was transported with serious head injuries to an Air Force base in Ohio where he died. He was buried secretly in a military cemetery there.
Eisenhower's reputation would have been hurt if all of this had come out, according to the author of this scenario. The author (or tale-spinner) tries to provide further support: Miller's wife Helen pleaded for three years for an explanation of what all happened. She then became silent and moved to California. Speculation might have it she arranged for Glenn to be buried in California in exchange for her pledge to stay silent on what happened.
It's interesting to ponder all this stuff but not necessarily to subscribe to any of it. One exception might be the bomb jettison story which seems to be getting buttressed. But how can we rule anything completely out? After all, war and deception are bedfellows. And surely "war is hell," even though this is just a paraphrase of what William Tecumseh Sherman said (at the Ohio State Fair).
World War 2 has been described as "the good war." Let's translate "good" to "necessary." I grew up during the bad war: Viet Nam. The Viet Nam War made me a cynic. Maybe this is why I listen to conspiracy theories.
But I have to admit, that touching scene in "The Glenn Miller Story" where the hero waves out the plane window is the most endearing "end of story."
It wasn't quite the end of the movie, though. We might have gotten teary-eyed seeing June Allyson as Helen reacting to "Little Brown Jug" played by Miller's band on the radio. She loved this song but Glenn never did. He had prepared the arrangement as a surprise.
What kind of musical treasures, besides this one, could Miller have shared with us in the post-WWII years? How tragic we were deprived of this. But what a gem he was in his lifetime.
Let's imagine that Norseman plane disappearing into the mist and perhaps think no more of it.
Glenn Miller RIP.
We'll still "In the Mood."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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