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Ed Crego Headshot

Glenn Miller: Now and Then

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On Sunday, April 13, the day before Passover, a man named Frazier Glenn Cross, known as Glenn Miller, is alleged to have shot and killed three people outside two Jewish facilities in Overland Park, Kansas.

Miller's apparent intent was to wreak violence upon the Jewish people as others have shamefully done here in the United States and in countries around the world in the past.

None of Mr. Miller's victims, however, was Jewish. The people who died were:

  • Reat Griffin Underwood, 14, an Eagle Scout, and member of the United Methodist Church
  • Reat's grandfather, Dr. William Lewis Corporon, a physician
  • Terri LaManna, 53, a mother who worked at the Children's Hospital for the Visually Impaired
Mr. Miller was a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina. According to the New York Times, "for decades", he was, "one of the country's more prominent white supremacists, known for his antipathy toward Jews..."

This Glenn Miller's actions have brought great sadness to our nation. His name, however, brings to mind another Glenn Miller. That Glenn Miller's actions have brought great joy to the nation from the 1930s until today.

The Glenn Miller of whom we write was perhaps the greatest big band leader in the history of the United States. Born in Clarinda Iowa in 1904, Glenn became a professional musician playing the trombone.

He formed the Glenn Miller Orchestra in 1937. Before his death, in 1944, his orchestra had recorded numerous top 10 "swing" or "dance band" hits including: In the Mood, Moonlight Serenade, Chattanooga Choo-Choo, A String of Pearls, and I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo.

When the country entered World War II at the age of 38 Glenn was too old for the draft. Nonetheless, "at the peak of his civilian career," he volunteered for the Navy but was not accepted. He petitioned and was accepted by the Army in August of 1942 joining as a Captain.

Captain Miller performed multiple tasks including morale building, modernizing military music, and raising millions of dollar in War Bond Drives. He was given the responsibility for forming the 50-member Army Air Force Band which was established at Yale University in March of 1943.

The Band originally performed stateside and on the weekly radio broadcast, I Sustain the Wings, hosted by Captain Miller. Miller arranged to take the band to England where it gave 800 performances and performed at more than 35 bases beginning in the summer of 1944.

On July 24, 1944, Miller was promoted to Major. On December 15 of that year, Major Miller was to fly from the United Kingdom to Paris France to entertain troops there.

His plane disappeared over the English Channel. To this date, no trace has been found of the plane, the crew, or Major Miller.

At his daughter's request, a headstone for Glenn Miller has been placed in Arlington National Cemetery. A memorial on the Cemetery's Official Website begins as follows, "Remember Glenn Miller, the noted composer, arranger, trombonist, and Big Band leader? Major Alton Glenn Miller, U.S. Army Air Corps has been missing in action since Dec. 15, 1944. Miller was eligible for a memorial headstone in Arlington National Cemetery as a service member who died on active duty whose remains were not recoverable."

Glenn Miller died but his music has not. The beat goes on.

It has been sustained over the years through vehicles such as the award-winning 1954 movie, The Glenn Miller Story, featuring Jimmy Stewart in the title role and with a score and orchestral arrangements of Miller's greatest hits by Henry Mancini.

It continues today by the officially sanctioned Glenn Miller Orchestra formed in 1956 and playing "an average of 300 live dates a year all around the world." The orchestra's touring schedule for the remainder of this year include performances across the country.

We remember band leader and patriot Glenn Miller now because his story is an American one. It is reminds us of who and what we are at our best and the harmonious sounds and songs that bring us together.

We contrast it to the story of the other Glenn Miller (aka Frazier Glenn Cross) which unfortunately is an American one as well. It tells us what can happen when we are at our worst consumed by discordant fear and bigotry.

As Mr. Miller/Cross was being put into the back of the squad car, after he was arrested for the Overland Park killings, it is reported he shouted, "Heil Hitler!" Americans during World II understood the imperative of standing against and not dancing with Hitler.

The real Glenn Miller reminded us then and he reminds us now that whom we dance with and what music we dance to matters. We remember that at this sad time because it gives us the hope and spirit to carry on to create a more perfect union and to make America a better place for all. It puts us In the Mood.

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