Most of them were away from home for the first time, they were young, and they were scared to death.
The Army drafted young men from every nook and cranny of the country and turned them into soldiers during World War II. They were put on ships and sent across the oceans to face life-and-death situations in lands they had previously only read about in their geography text books.
Though the daily rigors of Army life didn't lend much sympathy to their plight, the armed services did attempt to keep spirits and morale up. One such attempt was the V-Disc program.
V-Discs were the brainchild of Capt. Howard Bronson of the Army's Recreation and Welfare Section. Bronson was a musician and thought regular shipments of recorded music would boost troop morale.
At the time, the American Federation of Musicians was on strike in a dispute with recording companies over royalties. Because of the strike, there was no new recorded music being produced.
Lt. George Robert Vincent, a technical officer with the Armed Forces Radio Service, perceived that the ultimate morale booster would be newly recorded music, which was unavailable through traditional commercial channels because of the strike. So he received permission from Bronson to proceed with the project.
The American Federation of Musicians agreed to volunteer its members' services in making the recordings.
"There were some conditions, though," said Chuck Miller, a contributor to Goldmine magazine for music collectors. "Because of the strike, the union asked that the recordings not be used for any commercial purposes, that the records not be sold, and that all V-Discs were to be destroyed after the war."
About every major musical star of the time performed for V-Disc recordings: Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Spike Jones, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, and many others.
The recordings provide an interesting snapshot of popular music at the time. The sessions were oftentimes informal, and the performers sometimes experimented.
The Tommy Dorsey and Jimmy Dorsey bands made a rare recording together for a V-Disc. Fats Waller's last recording was on a V-Disc.
"Because of the musicians' strike," said Tim Neely, market analyst for Goldmine and its series of record price-guide books, "V-Discs are the only documentation of what these people sounded like during this period."
Every month during the war, according to Miller, a V-Disc kit of 30 records was sent from the RCA plant in Camden, N.J., to ports of call and bases around the European and Pacific theaters of operations. The kit also included an assortment of steel needles for the phonograph, a set of lyric sheets, and a questionnaire asking the soldiers what they wanted to hear in the future.
The most requested song was "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby. Among non-holiday music, "Stardust" was popular. V-Discs subsequently provided versions by Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Marie Greene, Edgar Haynes, and the song's writer, Hoagy Carmichael.
The final V-Disc kits were shipped in May 1949.
"After the V-Disc program ended," Miller said, "the armed services set out to honor the original AFM request that the records not be used for commercial purposes. Original masters and stampers were destroyed. Leftover V-Discs at bases and on ships were discarded.
"On some occasions, the FBI and the Provost Marshal's Office confiscated and destroyed V-Discs that servicemen had smuggled home. An employee at a Los Angeles record company even did some jail time for the illegal possession of more than 2,500 V-Discs."
Eventually, though, cooler heads prevailed and the V-Disc purge ended. As a result, a few V-Discs are available on the collectible record market today.
"They're not easy to find," Neely said, "but you do see them."
Common V-Discs sell for $8-$10, Neely said. A Sinatra recording might get $20-$25.
V-Disc recordings have also been re-released on modern formats, such as compact discs. These re-releases may hold down values for the original format.