Ramblin': The Andrews Sisters, Glenn Miller and the World War II years

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May 4—The Armed Forces Day celebration this Friday and Saturday got me to thinking about how our nation's military has sometimes been sang about in popular song.

Of course World War II saw a plethora of popular songs related to that earth-shaking event. Most of the ones that have stood the test of time were about the subject of romantic love, but there were some that were military-related.

Most of the romantic songs were sang from the point of view of a lover or spouse left behind while their significant other went away to war.

Some, although they were fewer, were sang about members of the military: soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.

One of the best vocal groups of the era — or, of any era — covered both fronts with songs such as "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (with Anyone Else but Me)" and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" — which would a few decades later become a hit the second time around for Bette Middler.

The Andrews Sisters, who specialized in three-part harmonies, were not only the most well-known and top selling female vocal group of the World War II years of 1941 to 1945 in the United States, they were also the most popular female vocal trio of the first half of the 20th Century. A similar honor would go to The Supremes for the century's second half.

Not only did The Andrews Sisters sell millions of records in their own right, they also proved to be a powerhouse act when teamed up with another popular artist, Bing Crosby — the only recording artist to sell more records in the 1940s than they did.

The Andrews Sisters sang with many artists, either on recordings, radio and television shows, or during live performances.

Something about the Andrew Sisters and the big band music from the 1940s and the World War II era holds a special place for me, even if it all happened before I was born.

Like with today's rock, country, soul, jazz, folk, bluegrass and blues musicians, many of the musical artists from that era continued to perform and tour as long as they could.

I've gotten to see several performances by groups performing a tribute to The Glenn Miller Band, even though the band leader himself died when his plane went missing during World War II.

And Woody Herman once brought his big band sound to S. Arch Thompson Auditorium in McAlester at a time when rock music ruled most of the nations airwaves.

I joined those who attended the concert, and I could hardly believe my good fortune at the time to actually see and hear a live performance from one of the standout bandleaders from the big band era.

Speaking of the Glenn Miller Band, I'll never forget the time when I had a couple of days in Washington with touring the Smithsonian Institution at the top of my itinerary — or so I thought.

Of course, once I arrived in the nation's Capitol, I soon realized how it would be impossible to do that in a couple of days, unless I ran a marathon race through the Smithsonian's many exhibits.

I learned the Smithsonian consisted 20 museums and galleries, with 17 of them in Washington, including the zoo known as the National Zoological Park.

I've since known people who spent years living and working in the nation's Capitol who've told me even then, they never got to tour the entire collective known as the Smithsonian. (Hey, Loise Washington, I'm taking to you.)

Clearly, I would have to make an adjustment in my Smithsonian plans.

I opted to tour the National Air and Space Museum first, and figured I could choose which of the many other amazing museums to check out later.

I really didn't know what to expect inside — but once I entered the building, I felt continually amazed.

I looked with near unbelief at a small aircraft suspended from the ceiling — the Spirit of St. Louis. Not a replica, but the very legendary aircraft that American hero Charles Lindbergh had flown from New York to an airport near Paris, France, becoming the first man to make a solo transatlantic flight.

More wonders awaited inside the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

I could hardly believe I stood next to the Mercury-Atlas 6: Friendship 7 — the very space capsule that astronaut John Glenn had been inside when he became the first American to orbit the earth on Feb. 20, 1962.

Some of Glenn's exploits would later be included in the 1984 movie, "The Right Stuff," with actor Ed Harris portraying the famed astronaut.

After Glenn orbited the earth three times and was credited with matching the Soviet's space exploits at the time, he returned to earth and to the U.S. to receive a hero's welcome, ticker-tape parades and all, much like Lindbergh had been feted following his transatlantic flight with the Spirit of St. Louis.

With wonders such as the Mercury capsule and the Spirit of St. Louis inside the National Air and Space Museum, I could hardly wait to see what some of the other museums might contain.

Following a break, later that afternoon I headed across the National Mall, when I saw a band setting up for a performance.

I decided to hang for a bit and see what was going on. Wait! This was more than a band, it was a big band, featuring multiple trumpets, trombones, saxophones, clarinets and drums.

When the band finished setting up, a man stepped up to a microphone and welcomed everyone to what he called a special performance of the U.S. Air Force Band playing a tribute to the Glenn Miller Band.

I decided to stick around for a song or two... or three — and soon I forgot all about continuing my exploration of the Smithsonian's wonders. Instead, I lost myself in the aural wonders of the music as it wafted across the National Mall.

I closed my eyes and imagined for a moment what it must have been like for a GI during World War II to hear the Glenn Miller Band in-person. This had to be as close as I would ever get to the real thing.

From the exhilaration of "In the Mood" to the tenderness of "String of Pearls," the U.S. Air Force Band musicians did Glenn Miller proud that day. When the band began its rendition of "Moonlight Serenade," some in the audience looked as if they were about to have an out-of-the-body experience — and I may have been among them.

And so it went. I found myself mesmerized by the music and stayed for the entire concert — I decision I've never regretted.

After all, the Smithsonian and its myriad of museums and galleries are still there, but that was my best chance ever to get lost in a live performance of songs from the big band era and the enduring music of Glenn Miller.