Glenn Miller - An American Icon


When war came for the United States in 1941, Glenn Miller was one of the most famous musicians and entertainers in the world. He and his “big band” were an incredibly creative team that defined American popular music.

But with America under attack, Miller felt the need to pitch into the war effort. He gave up a lucrative career and, at age 38, joined the Army, setting an example of leadership and sacrifice that today’s entertainers and celebrities should know.

In a press statement released in 1942, Glenn explained why he joined the service, writing:

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Miller as a civilian bandleader before America entered the War.

I, like every American, have an obligation to fulfill. That obligation is to lend as much support as I can to winning this war. It is not enough for me to sit back and buy bonds… I sincerely feel that I owe a debt of gratitude to my country…. the mere fact that I have had the privilege of exercising the rights to live and work as a free man puts me in the same position as every man in uniform, for it was the freedom and the democratic way of life we have that enabled me to make the strides in the right direction.

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Miller in uniform as an Army-Air Force Captain.

Miller, now appointed a Captain, gathered together musicians already in the Army and formed a band that played across the United States in 1942 and 1943, supporting war bond drives and raising morale.

In 1944, Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in the upcoming liberation of Europe, called Miller to London. Ike wanted the band leader to start a special radio service for the Allied troops under his command.

Miller spent the next six months touring throughout England, performing concerts at American, British and Canadian training bases. He narrowly escaped death once when a V-2 rocket destroyed a studio that he had been using recently, killing 70 BBC employees.

 

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Miller, now a Major, with his band touring in England in 1944.

 

Miller was enthusiastically greeted wherever he went and his band and their music had a huge impact on Allied morale. As the famous actor and World War II bomber pilot Jimmy Doolittle said, “Next to a letter from home, Capt. Miller, your organization is the greatest morale booster in the ETO.”

And Miller was humble about his efforts, keeping his performances as an entertainer in perspective and saying, “[M]aking all the money in the music business could never have made feel this rich.”


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Sadly, Miller did not survive the war. His plane disappeared enroute to France on December 15, 1944. Miller had gone ahead to plan the band’s support for the troops advancing against Nazi Germany.

But his band played on throughout the war, aspiring the keep his spirit alive through their efforts. They played their last concert after the War was over, on November 13, 1945, at the National Press Club for President Truman.

Eddie Cantor, the emcee for the evening, summed up Glenn Miller and his legacy as such:

“As a civilian he led an orchestra that for three years was the number one band in America. Now Glenn Miller could have stayed here. He could have made himself a lot of money. But he chose not to. He was an extremely patriotic man, and felt an intense obligation to serve his country. So he disbanded his orchestra and formed an even greater one. He took himself and his orchestra overseas where he felt he could do the most good for our fighting men. And now this great band is back here this evening without its most important man, Miller himself. For, as we know, he made the supreme sacrifice for his country. But he will never be forgotten, for always we will have the sound of the great music he created.”

Glenn Miller was an extraordinary American and a true leader. He set an example with his life and legacy that anyone who is fortunate enough to become rich as an entertainer in American should know and try to exemplify, showing a life-long pattern of integrity, nobility, curiosity, and accountability - four of the INVICTA leadership principles.