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Beacon Senior News

Music that took us to war and back

Nov 06, 2018 04:46AM ● By Guest

Glenn Miller Orchestra, circa 1940-41

Just before America entered World War II, a major change was already taking place in its popular music. The hard, jazzy feel of the late ’20s and early ’30s was giving way to a more relaxed, intimate style, which brought out a new attitude in its listeners. Dancing changed from the Charleston to a more sentimental beat for slow dancing and a faster beat for more active feet.

This was our generation’s defiant thumb-our-nose gesture at the Great Depression. Swing music helped define a culture of a great nation beset by the woes of depression and threatened by the prospect of horrendous war.

The rollicking tempo of the bass clef in boogie woogie spawned such tunes as “He’s Got Two Left Hands,” T.D.’s “Boogie Woogie,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar.”

The people were quick to mingle and “cut a rug” to some of the finest music ever produced. Legendary musicians such as Harry James, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, The Dorsey Brothers and many others performed with virtuosity unmatched in musical history.

Bing Crosby sings for Allied troops, 1944.

With the dastardly attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. was suddenly thrust into the worldwide conflict well before it was ready. But our music went with us. With beautiful ballads and upbeat swing, music provided comfort for families now often separated by half a world.

Some musicians went into the military, taking their skills with them. Many of them formed swing bands that traveled from base to base to entertain the troops. Glenn Miller went into the Army Air Corps where he was eventually allowed to create a 50-piece band to go to England and perform for troops stationed there and to broadcast over most of Europe.

They produced more than 800 performances. Many critics opined the group was the finest dance band ever assembled.

It’s thought that Glenn Miller’s plane was hit by unused bombs jettisoned from a British bomber on its way home from a raid on German facilities in Europe. Whatever happened, his plane was never found and Miller’s whereabouts never discovered.

After the war, members of the band reorganized themselves into several bands, all imitating his style and carrying the Glenn Miller name in some form.

The songs that became popular were those that fit the shifting mood of the country. Some of the songs were “fighting songs” that expressed our indignation at the sneak attack and the atrocities performed by swaggering Japanese soldiers on American prisoners. However, there were fighting songs directed at all our enemies. These songs included:

“Remember Pearl Harbor”— “let’s remember Pearl Harbor as they did the Alamo.”

“Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition”—“and we’ll all stay free”

“This is Worth Fighting For”—“and I heard that voice within me thunder, ‘this is worth fighting for.’”

“The Last Letter”—“God bless all the boys who are fighting tonight, and God keep America free.”

It wasn’t just the music. Other entertainment joined the fight. One popular cartoon was the unbeatable, spinach-gobbling sailor Popeye, telling them off with “You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap.” Movies like “Bataan” showed our brave boys holding off the Japanese War Machine, with a smile on their face and a quip on their lips.

Other music was created to bolster the spirits of our armed forces and the families they left behind. Songs like, “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me,” were answered with “I’ll Walk Alone,” “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.”

Traveling USO shows went wherever the troops were, bringing them a touch of home with jokes, dancing and songs, such as “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “I Don’t Want To Walk Without You,” and “Sentimental Journey.”

The number one entertainer was Der Bingle—Bing Crosby. He received his nickname courtesy of the German soldiers with whom he was extremely popular. When he entertained troops close to enemy lines, Germans were discovered sneaking into the shrubbery around the outdoor stage—not to attack but to listen to the show.

Terrie and Jennie Frankel entertain troops at a USO show in Vietnam in 1968. Photo courtesy of TwinsofSedona

As the war wound down, the music changed its themes. Now the numbers were such as “It’s Been A Long, Long Time” and “Kiss me once and kiss me twice...”

Some of our service members found their true loves where they were stationed, and serenaded them with “My Filipino Baby”— “she’s my treasure and my pet. Her teeth are white and pearly and her hair is black as jet.”

Many returning veterans found the sentimental journey home was tougher than they expected, but we had a world to set straight on a new footing and we were determined life would be easier for our kids. We may have overdone it.

Some got the mistaken idea that the world owed them an easy living. Some complained that they were born into a world they didn’t make. Was anyone ever?

But we came out of the war and worked hard to create the richest, most powerful, and most generous nation the world has ever known. And our music helped us along the way.