Updated:
Original:
Year
1944
Month Day
December 15

Legendary bandleader Glenn Miller disappears over the English Channel

General James Doolittle of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), hero of the daring “Doolittle Raid” on mainland Japan and later the unified commander of Allied air forces in Europe in World War II, offered the following high praise to one of his staff officers in 1944: “Next to a letter from home, Captain Miller, your organization is the greatest morale builder in the European Theater of Operations.” The Captain Miller in question was the trombonist and bandleader Glenn Miller, the biggest star on the American pop-music scene in the years immediately preceding World War II and a man who set aside his brilliant career right at its peak in 1942 to serve his country as leader of the USAAF dance band. It was in that capacity that Captain Glenn Miller boarded a single-engine aircraft at an airfield outside of London on December 15, 1944—an aircraft that would go missing over the English Channel en route to France for a congratulatory performance for American troops that had recently helped to liberate Paris. 

It would be difficult to overstate the magnitude of Glenn Miller’s success in the years immediately proceeding America’s entry into World War II. Though he was a relatively unspectacular instrumentalist himself—he’d played the trombone in various prominent orchestras but never distinguished himself as a performer—Miller the bandleader came to dominate the latter portion of the swing era on the strength of his disciplined arrangements and an innovation in orchestration that put the high-pitched clarinet on the melody line doubled by the saxophone section an octave below. This trademark sound helped the Glenn Miller Orchestra earn an unprecedented string of popular hits from 1939 to 1942, including the iconic versions of numbers like “In The Mood” (1939), “Tuxedo Junction” (1939) and “Chattanooga Choo Choo” (1941), as well as Miller’s self-penned signature tune, “Moonlight Serenade” (1939). 

The Glenn Miller Orchestra played its last-ever concert under Miller’s direction on September 27, 1942, in Passaic, New Jersey, and shortly thereafter, Miller entered the Army. After nearly two years spent stateside broadcasting a weekly radio program called I Sustain The Wings out of New York City, Miller formed a new 50-piece USAAF dance band and departed for England in the summer of 1944, giving hundreds of performances to Allied troops over the next six months before embarking on his fateful trip to France on this day in 1944.

The wreckage of Miller’s plane was never found. His official military status remains Missing in Action.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

On This Day in History: The US declares an end to the War in Iraq

U.S. declares an end to the War in Iraq

In a ceremony held in Baghdad on this day in 2011, the war that began in 2003 with the American-led invasion of Iraq officially comes to an end. Though December 15, 2011 was the official end date of the Iraq War, violence continued and in fact worsened over the subsequent years. ...read more

Kidnapped grandson of Getty billionaire found

Jean Paul Getty III, the grandson of American billionaire J. Paul Getty, is found alive near Naples, five months after his kidnapping by an Italian gang. J. Paul Getty, who became the richest man in the world in 1957, had initially refused to pay his 16-year-old grandson’s $17 ...read more

Architect of the Holocaust sentenced to die

In Tel Aviv, Israel, Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi SS officer who organized Adolf Hitler’s “final solution of the Jewish question,” is condemned to death by an Israeli war crimes tribunal. Eichmann was born in Solingen, Germany, in 1906. In November 1932, he joined the Nazi’s elite SS ...read more

Leaning Tower of Pisa reopens

On this day in 2001, Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa reopens after a team of experts spent 11 years and $27 million to fortify the tower without eliminating its famous lean. In the 12th century, construction began on the bell tower for the cathedral of Pisa, a busy trade center on ...read more

Jockey Sandy Hawley wins record 500th race

On December 15, 1973, Sandy Hawley becomes the first jockey to win 500 races in a single year. Born in Ontario, Canada, Hawley began working at Toronto race tracks when he was a teenager. He won his first race in October 1968 at Toronto’s Woodbine race track and quickly racked up ...read more

James Brown begins his prison sentence

Legendary singer James Brown, also known as the “Godfather of Soul” and the “Hardest Working Man in Show Business,” becomes inmate number 155413 at the State Park Correctional Institute in South Carolina. Brown had had several run-ins with the law during the summer of 1988 that ...read more