Christmas of Swing Honors World War II Veterans

Christmas of Swing Honors World War II Veterans

Christmas of Swing Honors World War II Veterans

Each year, the History Theatre of St. Paul, MN, has honored World War II veterans through its holiday event, “Christmas of Swing.” The production uses songs and real letters to tell stories of how the war impacted Minnesotans.

The main actors on stage portray the Andrews Sisters, who hailed from Minneapolis. Sisters Laverne, Patty, and Maxene Andrews rose to fame through songs they sang to entertain the troops at USO performances during WWII. When they were stateside, they would also raise money for war bonds.

Laverne, Patty, and Maxene are now gone, but the “Andrews Sisters” come to life again at the History Theatre. Here’s a performance from 2012.


The Origin of Christmas of Swing

Ron Peluso, the show’s director, decided to tell the story of the Andrews Sisters because of his father’s experiences.

Peluso’s father was a World War II veteran who served in Europe, and told his son how the Andrews Sisters “saved” him.

“He was at a lumberyard somewhere in southern France waiting to go home and he said ‘I started crying and a buddy came over and said to me, hey, USO is coming tomorrow. Cheer up, we’ll go to that, and the Andrews Sisters happened to be there.”

“Those girls saved my life.” 

That little story became the inspiration for Christmas of Swing.


A Special Guest Watches a Rehearsal

This year, one of the veterans whose letter was featured in Christmas of Swing watched one of the rehearsals. He is Dr. Harold Brown, now 97, who flew as a fighter pilot as one of the Tuskegee Airmen. Brown served with the 99th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group, stationed in Italy. His group gained fame as the “Red Tails,” who escorted bombers on their bombing runs.

Brown watched as a younger version of himself sang the words of a real letter that he sent home to his parents. It describes his shock as how he, a Minneapolis native, encountered the Jim Crow South as he headed to Tuskegee, AL, for training. While at a Southern Railway station, he went to the window to ask which track his train would arrive on. The agent directed him to a different window, one that had “Coloreds” written over it. And surprisingly, he spoke with the same agent, who acted as if he had never seen him before.

Brown said upon seeing the performance:

“I guess it brought back some reasonably fond memories. Some of the memories I would rather have forgotten about. But that won’t happen.”

Still, he said that he enjoyed watching the rehearsal.

Christmas of Swing/Harold Brown

Portrayal of Harold Brown at Christmas of Swing. History Theatre/Facebook screenshot.


What the Tuskegee Airmen Mean to Me

You might wonder how a white girl like me could have any connection to the Tuskegee Airmen. And that would be true: I have no direct association with them. But my father did.

My dad served in World War II with a B-17 bomber crew that was part of the 483rd Heavy Bomb Group, 15th Army Air Force. Stationed in Italy in 1944, the group bombed targets in Hungary, Romania, Austria, and Germany, among others. And escorting them were the Red Tails, the Tuskegee Airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group.

Doing a bit of research, I learned that Lt. Harold Brown arrived at the 332nd’s base in Italy sometime in August, 1944. He served as a fighter pilot and bomber escort until March, 1945, when he was shot down and captured by the Germans, who held him in a POW camp near Nuremberg.

Meanwhile, my father’s group began their bombing missions in July, 1944. His crew then completed their 50 missions through the summer and early fall, and my father went home in October of that year.

So I wondered: did Harold Brown escort my father’s plane at some time? There’s no way of knowing, of course. But it also makes me wonder: if it weren’t for the Red Tails, would I even be here today?


Why Christmas of Swing is Meaningful

Needless to say, most veterans of World War II are no longer with us. My father, for example, passed away in October, 2019, at age 95. He was also the last survivor of his ten-man bomber crew.

Harold Brown is still with us, but at the age of 97, will he be around to watch another Christmas of Swing performance? The show gives special recognition to any WWII veterans in the audience, but so far only five have watched a performance. Soon, no more of these men of the Greatest Generation will be here to attend.

I truly hope the History Theatre continues this wonderful holiday tradition for many years to come. We must always remember what American men (and women) did to defend the nation and save the world from tyranny so many decades ago.


Featured image: History Theatre/Facebook screenshot/cropped.

Written by

Kim is a pint-sized patriot who packs some big contradictions. She is a Baby Boomer who never became a hippie, an active Republican who first registered as a Democrat (okay, it was to help a sorority sister's father in his run for sheriff), and a devout Lutheran who practices yoga. Growing up in small-town Indiana, now living in the Kansas City metro, Kim is a conservative Midwestern gal whose heart is also in the Seattle area, where her eldest daughter, son-in-law, and grandson live. Kim is a working speech pathologist who left school system employment behind to subcontract to an agency, and has never looked back. She describes her conservatism as falling in the mold of Russell Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles. Don't know what they are? Google them!


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