WWII vet says friendly fire killed bandleader Glenn Miller
There are inconsistencies in virtually every account of the death of band leader Glenn Miller during World War II.
The type of plane Miller was riding in, the location where it was shot down and who did the shooting — it all varies from source to source.
Bloomington resident Clarence B. Wolfe set out to put that speculation to rest when he wrote his book, “I Kept My Word,” which was published by AuthorHouse earlier this year.
Wolfe writes that he is the “only living person directly involved in — though not responsible for — Miller’s death.”
The title of the book refers to the promise he made to his captain, the man who gave the order to shoot down Miller’s plane. “He told me to keep my g-- d--- mouth shut and I did,” Wolfe said this week. “But since he’s gone and everyone else has passed on, I thought history should record what really happened.”
It’s important to know, Wolfe said, that Miller was hated by the Army generals. “They wanted him to play march music, stuff to glorify the military, and he wouldn’t do it. He made the men happy. He made them dance. That was the last thing these generals wanted,” Wolfe said. “The generals get their stars and medals from looking out over dead bodies.”
Also important to understand was the culture of death that pervaded the war. Combatants on all sides often killed prisoners on the spot rather than be burdened with taking them to secure locations and feeding them. Lives were cheap.
Wolfe contends that on Sept. 9, 1944, Miller was put on a small plane, most likely a Piper Cub, which strangely had no identification electronics on board. It took off from Twinwood Airfield, 50 miles north of London, bound for Paris. The pilot, according to Wolfe’s research, was facing charges for hauling black market contraband and possibly had a plane filled with it when he set out with the famous American band leader.
English radar operators at Dover picked up the airplane Miller was in and sent a radio message out that it was tracking an aircraft with no IFF (identification, friend or foe). Wolfe’s gunnery crew at Folkestone received the message and spotted the plane. Wolfe said the plane did not appear to be an enemy craft to him because it was too small and flying too low and too slowly. He broadcast not one but four identification messages to the aircraft and received no response.
His mistake, he said, was to report that to his captain, who he asserts was perpetually drunk and not a person capable of thinking beyond his reflex training. “No sooner were these words (“No IFF”) out of my mouth than I heard ‘Commence fire!’” Wolfe wrote. “Thirty-six rounds were fired after which Dover gave the ‘Target down’ report. I knew we had killed whoever was in that small plane, shot down between Ramsgate and Dover over the North Sea.”
The plane was not only shot down but obliterated. And, Wolfe said, if his unit hadn’t shot the plane down, another would have. “No one in his right mind would have sent that plane on the course it was on without knowing it would be shot down,” Wolfe said. “It was literally flying through 15 miles of guns with no IFF signal. It had no chance.”
Wolfe said it was a common practice at the time for generals to get flight time in small planes on inconsequential runs to get their flight pay, and so his captain immediately thought he’d shot down a general. Hence, the shut-your-mouth order, to which Wolfe agreed. It was only later, when the famous band leader was reported missing, that Wolfe figured out “we shot down Glenn Miller.”
“It was the same thing as with (former football star Pat) Tillman,” Wolfe said, referring to the “friendly fire” accident in Iraq that killed the U.S. soldier in 2004. “The Army has always been very good at covering up its mistakes. They didn’t want anyone to know that the U.S. Army killed probably the most beloved band leader in the country.”
“I Kept My Word” will surely draw denials from the military and scorn from some parties. “What do I care?” Wolfe said with a laugh. “I’m too old (83) for them to do anything to me now.”
Actually, the book is mostly a memoir of how an innocent farm boy from Clay City lost his innocence in every way during World War II. Some incidents are laugh-out-loud candid and funny. And a few are gulp-in-the-throat chilling.
Once, Wolfe and a small detachment were trapped behind enemy lines and hiding, knowing they would be killed on the spot if discovered by German soldiers. Miraculously, the guy who drew the short straw to be one to try to get help actually made it through. And even more miraculously, an American colonel pulled off a daring rescue.
The colonel spoke perfect German and drove to the men’s hiding place, bluffing his way through German checkpoints. When he reached Wolfe and the surviving soldiers, he told them to lie face-down in the bed of the truck. Then he piled frozen corpses of American soldiers on top of them and proceeded to berate German sentries at every checkpoint — again, bluffing his way though. He was even wearing a U.S. uniform, a common practice used by U.S. and German spies.
“You know, it’s always bothered me that the only thing I did was say thank you to him,” Wolfe said. “What he accomplished was incredible. We were dead men. I would not have lived if not for him.
“I’ve tried most of my life to find him, to find his family, to tell them what a brave and ingenious man he was. I’ve never been able to find anyone,” Wolfe said. “Yeah, it bothers me that we shot down Glenn Miller. But it bothers me more that I never properly thanked the man who saved my life.”
Sure there are dishonest men in local government. But there are dishonest men in national government too.