Dennis M. Spragg
Potomac Books, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2017, 408 pages
Book Review published on: September 29, 2017
World War II continues to have its share of unsolved mysteries and unanswered questions. Several of these, over seventy years later, continue to intrigue the public. One that stays relevant and spawns its share of conspiracy theories is the disappearance of the plane that Maj. Alton Glenn Miller (renowned band leader) was aboard in late 1944. It is this mystery that author Dennis Spragg keys on in his superb volume Glenn Miller: Declassified.
On 15 December 1944, Miller boarded an Eighth Air Force Command plane in Clapham, Bedfordshire, England. Miller, the commanding officer of the Army Air Force Band was bound for Vélizy-Villacoublay, France. It was here that he began final preparations for a Christmas concert for the troops in now-liberated Paris. However, the plane never made it to its final destination.
Somewhere across the English Channel, the airplane and its occupants vanished. The Eighth Air Force immediately conducted a search for the airplane and its occupants. Nothing was found during this search nor has anything been found since. Because of this lack of resolution, the flight’s occupants continue to be classified today as missing in action.
An extensive investigation was conducted as well by the Eighth Air Force. The results of the inquiry determined that the airplane went down because of pilot disorientation, mechanical failure, or weather conditions (or the combination of these factors). This nondefinitive result has led to numerous other theories as to the disappearance of the airplane and to what eventually happened to Miller. These include that the airplane was brought down by Royal Air Force Lancasters who were bombing in the Channel or that Miller was captured by German forces and was subsequently tortured and killed.
So what are Spragg’s motivations in investigating the disappearance of Miller’s flight? First, Spragg has a great interest in Miller’s life and, clearly, he himself sought clarity on this mystery. Additionally, Spragg’s knowledge and expertise on Miller is significant. (Highlighted by his tenure as the senior consultant for the Glenn Miller Archive in the American Music Research Center located at the University of Colorado Boulder.) Second, he was inspired to undertake this significant endeavor by Miller’s son, Steven Davis Miller, who personally asked him to determine what happened to his father’s plane and to publicly publish it.
In order to succeed in a project of this scope and subject matter, I believe there are three key factors an author must achieve. First, he must be relentless in his pursuit of research. The research must be significant in both quantity and quality. Spragg has clearly exhibited this type of dedication through more than five years of research for this volume. The author makes outstanding use of information gathered at numerous archives located in England and the United States. He has also received permission from Miller’s son to use his father’s personal military records. It is this wealth of information and facts that enables Spragg to make his determination on what occurred that day.
Second, in presenting any case in oral or written form, organization is critical. This organization should be systematic and possess a logical flow to it. Readers will discover that Glenn Miller: Declassified is organized in this way. Spragg methodically presents facts, refutes other claims and theories, and then expertly presents his findings in the book’s conclusion. Many of us struggle through books containing large amounts of information in which the author haphazardly throws them all together leaving us simply perplexed. Spragg’s superb organizational skills ensure a state of confusion does not set in on his readers.
The third factor in setting the conditions for success is crafting a volume that is highly readable. If an author cannot translate his research into readable copy, it is essentially a wasted effort for both the writer and the reader. I have found books of this variety can tend to have an academic flavor to them. This is clearly not the case within Glenn Miller: Declassified. Spragg writes in a highly conversant style void of any academic feel. This combines with the book’s extremely intriguing subject matter to produce a very captivating read.
Obviously, the volume’s clear focus is on determining the airplane’s disappearance. However, Spragg addresses many other areas adding significantly to the book. These include providing a very concise background of Miller’s childhood and early adult years, discussing his incredible career in music, highlighting his military service, and presenting his legacy. These sections combine to provide readers with a mini-biography of Miller in addition to the book’s main emphasis.
Spragg has crafted a book that will appeal and benefit an eclectic group of readers, including those with interests in World War II, big band and swing music, unsolved mysteries, and of course, Glenn Miller himself. Each of these groups will find a volume that is superbly written, exhaustively researched and one which grips the reader throughout. They will also find that Spragg has developed the definitive study of the events of 15 December 1944. However, do not take my word on this. Miller’s daughter, Jonnie Miller Hoffman states, “Finally, there is resolution to this long-standing mystery.” Case closed.
Book Review written by: Frederick A. Baillergeon, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas