Army Bands in WWII




Approximately 500 bands served the Army during World War II. The bands were categorized into three types: special bands, separate bands, and organization bands.


The United States Army Band (Pershing's Own), the US Military Academy Band, and the US Army Air Corps Band, were the designated special bands. As special bands, they performed at special ceremonies, concerts, parades, and recruiting drives.


Separate bands were controlled by the Adjutant General and supported the administrative, technical, and training centers to which they were attached.


Organization bands were infantry units and were attached to combat commands to provide music for the unit's combat and support troops of the division. (Regimental bands were abolished in 1943 as individual units and consolidated to form division bands.)


Organization bands performed many non-musical duties as infantry units. Most bands guarded post perimeters and supply trains. They were able to function as musical units when required, as long as they remained organically intact and held occasional rehearsals. Many times, however, commanders would use their bandsmen as litter bearers or replacements in the line. When it came time to use these bands as musical units, they were generally inoperative, and required several months to reorganize and retrain.


Field commanders used organization bands primarily to entertain off-duty combat troops. Commanders made their bands more versatile and maneuverable by dividing their bands into several small ensembles. This also allowed them to perform closer to the front. Some ensembles, such as those from the 101st Airborne Division Band, played as far forward as command posts.


The 28th Infantry Division Band distinguished itself during WWII. During the Battle of the Bulge, the divisional command post at Wiltz, Luxembourg, came under severe attack. Members of the 28th Infantry Division Band took up arms and fought as part of holding line around Wiltz to stop the German advance. The band put away their instruments, dug foxholes and picked up carbines. A clarinetist, Private First Class Collins, manned a bazooka and then drove a truck loaded with the band's music. He was going to save the music, but 10 miles out of Bastogne the convoy was ambushed and all the music burned. Only 16 of the band's 60 men survived the fighting in the Ardennes.


The 28th Infantry Division Band was not the only band involved in the Battle of the Bulge. The 101st Airborne helped hold on to Bastogne preventing it from falling to the Germans. The 82nd Airborne Division Band was caught in the battle after being sent to the Ardennes for R & R. The 82nd front line was stretched thin. The 82nd Airborne Band joined the depleted front line to hold off the German spearhead. The band helped hold off two German Infantry Divisions and a Panzer Division.


Because the demand for music units exceeded the number of available bands and ensembles, many commanders organized Field Music Units. Most Field Music Units, composed of drums and bugles played by soldiers, spent their mornings on military duties, and afternoons in rehearsals or drill. These units became so popular they performed extensively until the end of the war.


The war in Europe was not limited to just organization bands. The Army Band embarked on a two week wartime tour in 1943, which lasted two years. The band performed near Metz, not far from combat, to lift morale during the Battle of the Bulge. The Army Band performed at countless Red Cross and USO dances and played concerts for civilians. Of all the special bands in Washington DC, The Army Band is the only one to ever perform in a theater of foreign combat operations.


The dance bands of the Army, due to their mobility, entertainment value, and the positive morale factor, became important. This was the day of the large dance bands in America and many soldiers thirsted for the music they left behind. The selective draft brought many outstanding musicians into the Army and the Army Air Corps.


The most recognized name of the big bands was Glenn Miller. Glenn Miller was commissioned as a captain in the US Army Specialist Corps in June 1942. Miller did not have to enter service; he had defective vision, was above draft age and had two adopted children. He wanted to contribute by bringing his music to servicemen and women and to streamline and modernize military music. After becoming director of Army bands, he organized a plan to have 30 small dance orchestras to tour the country and one major string orchestra. He also wrote swing arrangements of Sousa marches. His band would perform military ceremonies from jeeps so a full rhythm section could accompany the winds. Army officials were not receptive to the swing arrangements and Glenn Miller found himself bogged down with the Army routine. He transferred his service to the Army Air Force and was made director of bands training for the Army Air Forces Technical Training Command. In 1943, Glenn Miller's 45 piece orchestra began a weekly series of half hour radio programs called "I Sustain the Wings." This program included a dramatic skit to recruit men into the service and selling war bonds. In 1944, the band, now named the American Band of the Allied Expeditionary Force, began a weekly radio program broadcasted to Europe and later to the continent.


On July 20, 1942, the first contingent of women was inducted into the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. By early 1943, five bands, the 400th Army Band, 401st Army Band , 402d Army Band, 403d Army Band, and the 404th Army Band were composed entirely of women. WAAC bands were later redesignated and officially activated in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) on January 21, 1944.


On July 24, 1943, two band training units were established by order of Lieutenant General Somervell. One was located at the Quartermaster Replacement Training Center, Camp Lee, Virginia. The second was established at the Signal Corps Replacement Training Center, Camp Crowder, Missouri. This training was intended only to orient qualified draftees on the mission and operation of an Army band. It did not include any courses designed to increase the individual's instrumental proficiency.


When it became apparent that the Camp Lee Training Center could handle the entire music program, the Camp Crowder training unit was discontinued in 1944.


In 1944, separate bands were authorized 28 bandsmen and one warrant officer for each separate band. Organization bands were authorized 56 bandsmen and two warrant officers (the same number as two separate bands combined).


In 1944, the War Department directed that a band be formed entirely of qualified musicians who had combat service overseas. Commanded by Chief Warrant Officer Chester Whiting, the new band was named the First Combat Infantry Band with a mission to entertain at War Bond Drives around the country. When it was no longer possible to maintain a band comprised exclusively of musicians with combat service, plans were made to reorganize and rename the band. General Devers, Commander of the US Army Ground Forces, issued the following order to Whiting: "I want you to organize a band that will carry into the grassroots of our country the story of our magnificent Army, its glorious traditions and achievements: and of the great symbol of American manhood--the Ground Soldier." On March 21, 1946 the United States Ground Forces Band was activated.


During World War II, supervision of Army bands was divided between the Chief of Special Services and The Adjutant General. No central agency had full responsibility for the technical staff supervision of all Army bands and all Army bandsmen.

Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"

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