An episode about one of World War 2’s biggest mysteries, “The Disappearance of Glenn Miller”, premieres on the PBS series History Detectives Special Investigations next week. I have always wanted to know more about the mystery and the series’ three investigators, who team up to solve each case, Wes Cowan, an independent appraiser and auctioneer, Kaiama Glover, professor at Barnard College, Columbia University and Tukufu Zuberi, a humanities professor at the University of Pennsylvania, sort through three main theories about the big band leader’s unsolved disappearance.
Toward the end of the war, enlisted Army Air Force band leader Miller, a hugely popular jazz musician, songwriter, composer and recording star in a league with the Beatles and Elvis for his time, took off with others on a plane bound for a Christmas concert for Allied troops in liberated Paris. The plane never arrived and was lost somewhere over the English Channel. There are several theories including conspiracy theories. The trio of history detectives briefly set up his background (he is known for his hits “In the Mood”, “Moonlight Serenade”, “Pennsylvania 6-5000″, “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, “A String of Pearls”, “At Last”, “(I’ve Got a Gal In) Kalamazoo”, and “Tuxedo Junction”) and the three theories: a crash, secret spy mission incident and downing by friendly fire.
It is true that a British air force bombing raid may have been in close proximity and the friendly fire theory is both examined and convincingly debunked. Among the finds are rarely heard recordings of Glenn Miller speaking in German for U.S. propaganda against the Nazi Wehrmacht. Actor David Niven comes into the picture, too, as having played an interesting role with Miller in espionage against the fascists in Germany. They were part of an apparent campaign to encourage an internal German resistance through the “swing kids” that worshipped American and Negro music at the time. The swing kids were targeted by Gen. Eisenhower, according to the history detectives, with Glenn Miller’s music. They were branded as “subversive and degenerate” by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps.
Apparently, Glenn Miller was not on the missing plane’s flight manifest, which the hosts explain is why there was a delay in the Army’s announcement, fueling speculation of conspiracies, and the Battle of the Bulge started the day after the plane took off, garnering all the press headlines.
Glenn Miller’s nephew John Miller, who lives in England, appears and each major possibility is fully explored combining known data and new facts and information about weather (it was foggy when the plane took off), aircraft history, charting and locations. Miller, who was preparing for the Christmas day concert for those who’d fought at Normandy on D-Day, hated to fly and reportedly asked after looking into the plane: “Where are the parachutes?” According to what’s reported here, it’s pretty clear that he wasn’t enthusiastic about boarding the doomed flight.The detectives explain and simulate how the plane, flown by a pilot who was not instrument rated, may have flown directly into plunging temperatures in a winter storm without carburetor heaters (they had been recalled and were being directed to big Allied bombers not utility planes like Miller’s). The engine probably froze, possibly followed by a big pop and, it is postulated, the plane apparently nosedived into the English Channel. Army regulations precluded sharing the Army’s theory with the Miller family that he got into a ticking time bomb that had not been cleared for a flight over the English Channel. Neither the plane nor Miller’s body was recovered. He was survived by his wife Helen and their two children. “The Disappearance of Glenn Miller” premieres on Tuesday, July 8, 9pm-10pm ET on PBS.