During the dead of winter in 1963, 13 students, L. David Miller, choir director, and James Telfer, public relations assistant and performing member of the group, boarded a plane to begin a tour that would cover nearly 16,000 miles in little more than five weeks. The group’s mission: to entertain troops at United States military posts on high alert in the Arctic, and to serve as the choir for Sunday church services in the local communities.
According to the Torch, the group, Sounds of Wittenberg, was one of only 20 entertainment packages selected by the USO and the National Association of Music Clubs from among the 300 college and university groups that auditioned. The round-trip and all overseas expenses were paid by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Thule, Greenland, 600 miles from the North Pole, equidistant from Moscow, Seattle and New York, where temperatures hovered around 70 degrees below zero and darkness prevailed for 24 hours in the winter, was one stop on the unique tour.
“We had to stay indoors two to three days and eat K-rations,” Jere Flint ’65 remembered. “The exterior doors were like large meat locker doors, the sound was like a speeding freight train, and flesh would freeze in less than a minute.”
“When the weather cleared, we were moved to the hospital and had to stay in again,” said Mary Lou Milliron Hudtloff ’65. “We gave several performances there.”
The group traveled via the Gooney Bird – the C-47, a two-engine cargo plane that sits on its tail with seats facing backwards.
“They put in 15 seats just for us,” recalled fellow traveler Doug Perry ’65. “The weather was horrendous. On one rough flight, the plane dropped so quickly, the coffee in my cup stayed in the air. It was like a cartoon.”
Spirits high, the group entertained thousands of servicemen with a musical variety show that included solos, duets and combos of popular show tunes, dancing and joke telling. After the performances, the students would talk with the servicemen.
“It was phenomenal,” Flint said. “I loved it. It was one of the highlights of my life.”
“We were wined and dined so royally by the officers,” Perry added. “It was an incredible experience.”
A television performance, which reached an estimated 12,000 viewers, and a packed house at a public concert in Goose Bay, Labrador, added to the excitement.
“There were sacrifices along the way – taking exams early to allow for practice and catching up,” Hudtloff said, “but it was well worth it. Everyone was kind and appreciative, and the camaraderie among the group was wonderful.”
A follow-up letter to President Stoughton summarized the experience: “When the 15 enthusiastic entertainers from your school arrived in Argenia (Newfoundland), they presented the words ‘Wittenberg University,’ and they carried the name well. They will have a lasting impact upon all concerned. On stage, at the BOQ they were to us a pleasant reminder of home, and they shared their youth with us and lifted us momentarily out of the depression of loneliness. You may well be proud of the reputation, the dignity and the memories they spread so graciously while on their tour.”