U.S. Army Air Corps veteran Robert Christoferson played lead trumpet in one of Glenn Miller’s bands while stationed near Bedford, England during World War II.
His day job was control tower operator for a service base that was responsible for eight surrounding airfields.
Watching the aircraft come and go, he marveled at how the bombers — battered by anti-aircraft fire — were able to make it back after their missions.
“I don’t see how they did it with two engines out on one side, or part of the tail shot off,” he said.
When Christoferson arrived in Bedford in August of 1943, he found he could continue his fledgling trumpet career. He picked up the horn when he was a sophomore in high school and found he had some talent.
“I had good tone, and I was loud,” he said, laughing
He said there was a big, 20-piece band at the base, and they were looking for players.
It didn’t matter the experience level, he said. They were willing to train novice musicians.
Within three months, the band was playing all over.
“It was a thrill to play in front of monster crowds,” he said.
When Miller arrived in June of 1944, his band was deluged with requests to play.
“They had a load that was unbelievable, of requests, and recordings and personal appearances,” Christoferson said. “When they found out they needed more help, our band was drafted into special services, headed by Miller. That took us away from all our military jobs.
“We were the B band … while Miller and his main band were making recordings five days a week, 10 hours a day, somebody had to take care of these requests to play at different air bases. That was our job.
“‘Moonlight Serenade,’ ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo,’ ‘Pennsylvania 6-5000,’” he said, rattling off some of the songs on the band’s play list.
Christoferson had been playing a military-issue trumpet, but wanting to take his performance up a notch, he sent home for his new Buescher True Tone trumpet his mom bought for him for $300 in 1941.
“They got a hold of the Red Cross and contacted my mother. She sent the horn to me at the base.”
The new band was assigned a B-24 bomber — with the armament removed and outfitted for the musicians.
“We traveled around to all the bases in France, Belgium.”
Christoferson has a picture, dated Nov. 26, 1944, of himself and a couple of other U.S. Army Air Corps musicians. Glenn Miller also is in the photo and he’s holding Christoferson’s trumpet.
“He wanted to see this trumpet that they’d gone to all that trouble to bring over here,” he said, laughing.
It was the last time he saw Miller.
A little more than two weeks later, a plane carrying the famous band leader went down in the English Channel, on Dec. 15, 1944.
“He shouldn’t have taken off,” Christoferson said. “It was a miserable day. Rainy, windy. He had to leave to go to Paris. We were waiting for him. He never arrived.
“Miller wasn’t very outgoing — he was more of a technical guy,” Christoferson said.
“He wasn’t happy until he got the right sound, but he was an overall nice guy with a lot of talent.”
Christoferson said he’ll never forget the day he returned to the states after the end of the war.
“There were 20,000 soldiers all on the deck of the Queen Elizabeth.”
Nearly three days later, the luxury liner approached the coast of New York.
“Every boat that floated was in the harbor when we came in.”
Name: Robert Christoferson
Born: April 18, 1923
Residence: Palm Springs/Sun City, Ariz.
Branch of service: U.S. Army Air Corps; 8th Air Force
Years served: May, 1943 – November, 1945
Rank: Private First Class
Family: Wife Amy; five children, Jeff Wilson of Palm Springs, Ronda Ambrosini of Eureka, Randy Christoferson of Foster City, Paul Christoferson of Sacramento, and Marty Langham of Lansing, Mich.