The following contribution comes from Dennis M. Spragg, author of Glenn Miller Declassified (September, 2017). Spragg is the senior consultant of the Glenn Miller Archive and the American Music Research Center at the University of Colorado–Boulder. A veteran broadcasting and media research professional, he is an internationally known expert on Glenn Miller who has been featured in the PBS television series History Detectives and a BBC Radio production.
Documenting the true story of Glenn Miller, I was impressed and motivated by the quality and quantity of previously undocumented or unpublished information I found concerning not only Glenn Miller but the entire scope of the extraordinary alliance between the media and entertainment industry with the government of the United States in World War II.
America’s number one bandleader was among the most visible celebrities of popular culture when the United States formally entered the war. He felt a profound responsibility to “those kids that buy my records” who suddenly found themselves in uniform. Miller walked away from his lucrative radio, records and film career to join the Army Air Forces (AAF), where he built a radio entertainment unit and orchestra to increase public awareness, boost morale, recruit personnel and sell war bonds. In May 1944, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower requested that the AAF transfer Capt. Miller and his organization to the United Kingdom for a combined American-British allied network. Miller’s unit was, in the words of Gen. “Jimmy” Doolittle, commander of the Eighth Air Force, “next to a letter from home, the greatest morale booster in the European Theater.” Unfortunately, on December 15, 1944, then-Maj. Miller disappeared as a passenger on a routine flight between England and France. The plane and its three occupants vanished off the face of the earth and have never been found. The AAF determined that the plane went down over the English Channel as a result of pilot disorientation, mechanical failure and bad weather.
Many alternative and conspiracy theories surfaced over the years regarding what really happened. I set out to discover and publish the truth. Many individuals and agencies on both sides of the Atlantic kindly offered their complete support and guidance, and the end result is the truly remarkable history not only of Glenn Miller, but of the people and agencies that he worked with, as well as the intimate and victorious alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom. As importantly as the American airmen who helped to win the war in the air, Glenn Miller helped to win the war on the air.
Readers are kindly noting the degree of detail in the book; that it is easy to read and understand, and the evidence is presented in a “logical manner.” The book is a smooth, informative and enjoyable read, and benefits from exceptional University of Nebraska Press editors. A methodology of patiently assembling many formerly classified or unknown details from multiple locations and sources has produced a cohesive picture that straightens out long-held misconceptions. Almost like a detective story, by process of elimination and careful cross-examination, many theories are eliminated and readers learn what really happened.
In a time of increasingly harsh and polarized discourse, discovering media and government cooperation, clear national priorities and a popular celebrity who gave his life for his country is refreshing and inspiring. Although he would scoff at the notion, Glenn Miller’s music was and remains the soundtrack of what has become known as the “greatest generation.”
There is inspiration as well as instructive guidance for twenty-first-century readers in the story of Glenn Miller and the skills and sacrifice of the people and agencies who won World War II, not only in combat but in vital tasks such as broadcasting. The professionalism of entertainers, journalists and media professionals in wartime is an inspiring inheritance. They show today’s journalists and media professionals why integrity, common sense and responsibility will always matter as a common practice but especially when the chips are down.