Don't let the sun go down without reading this about Martha Raye.
The most unforgivable oversight of TV is that her shows were not taped. This is a great story about a great woman. I was unaware of her credentials or where she is buried. Somehow I just can't see Brittany Spears, Paris Hilton, or Jessica Simpson doing what this woman (and the other USO women, including Ann Margaret & Joey Heatherton) did for our troops in past wars. Most of the old time entertainers were made of a lot sterner stuff than today's crop of activists bland whiners. The following is from an Army Aviator who takes a trip down memory lane: "It was just before Thanksgiving '67 and we were ferrying dead and wounded from a large GRF west of Pleiku. We had run out of body bags by noon, so the Hook (CH-47 CHINOOK) was pretty rough in the back. All of a sudden, we heard a 'take-charge' woman's voice in the rear. There was the singer and actress, Martha Raye, with a SF (Special Forces) beret and jungle fatigues, with subdued markings, helping the wounded into the Chinook, and carrying the dead aboard. 'Maggie' had been visiting her SF 'heroes' out 'west'. We took off, short of fuel, and headed to the USAF hospital pad at Pleiku. As we all started unloading our sad pax's, a 'Smart Mouth' USAF Captain said to Martha.... "Ms Ray, with all these dead and wounded to process, there would not be time for your show!" To all of our surprise, she pulled on her right collar and said ....."Captain, see this eagle? I am a full 'Bird' in the US Army Reserve, and on this is a 'Caduceus' which means I am a Nurse, with a surgical specialty....now, take me to your wounded!" He said, "Yes ma'am.... follow me." Several times at the Army Field Hospital in Pleiku, she would 'cover' a surgical shift, giving a nurse a well-deserved break. Martha is the only woman buried in the SF (Special Forces) cemetery at Ft Bragg.
Hand Salute! A great lady.. I did not know this about Martha Ray.... thought you might like to read it
In October 1966, she went to Soc Trang , Vietnam , to entertain the troops at the base which was the home base of the 121st Aviation company, the Soc Trang Tigers, their gunship platoon, the Vikings; and the 336th Aviation company, the Warriors, and their gunship platoon, the Thunderbirds. Shortly after her arrival, both units were called out on a mission to extract supposed POWs from an area nearby. Raye decided to hold her troupe of entertainers there until the mission was completed so that all of the servicemen could watch her show. She often served as a nurse while on these trips.
During that time, a serviceman flying a "Huey Slick" helicopter carrying troops recalls that his ship received combat damage to the extent that he had to return to base at Soc Trang:
I was the pilot of that "slick" which had received major damage to the tail-rotor drive shaft from a lucky enemy rifle shot. The maintenance team at the staging area inspected and determined that a one-time flight back to base camp would be okay but grounded the aircraft after that. Upon arriving back at Soc Trang, I informed Martha (she came right up to us and asked how things were going) that we had a gunship down in the combat area and additional efforts were being made to extract the crew. I don't recall if we had received word of the death of the pilot at that time. Martha stated that she and her troupe would remain until everyone returned from the mission. As there were no replacements, the servicemen could not return to the mission. While the servicemen waited, Raye played poker with them and helped to keep everyone's spirits up. I enjoyed playing cards with Martha but regretted it somewhat. It appears that she had plenty of practice playing poker with GIs during her USO service in multiple wars. But I still love her for who she was and what she did. When the mission was completed, which had resulted in the loss of a helicopter, gunship and a Viking pilot, there was also an officer, the Major who was in command of the Vikings who had been wounded when the ship went down. He was flying pilot position but was not in control of the ship when the command pilot, a Warrant Officer, was shot. When he and the two remaining crewmen were returned to Soc Trang, Raye volunteered to assist the doctor in treating the wounded flyer. When all had been completed, Raye waited until everybody was available and then put on her show. Everyone involved appreciated her as an outstanding trouper and a caring person. During the Vietnam War, she was made an honorary Green Beret because she visited United States Army Special Forces in Vietnam without fanfare, and she helped out when things got bad in Special Forces A-Camps. As a result, she came to be known affectionately by the Green Berets as "Colonel Maggie." [ 8 ]
On November 2, 1993, Martha Raye was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Bill Clinton, for her service to her country. [ 6 ] The citation reads:
"A talented performer whose career spans the better part of a century, Martha Raye has delighted audiences and uplifted spirits around the globe. She brought her tremendous comedic and musical skills to her work in film, stage, and television, helping to shape American entertainment. the great courage, kindness, and patriotism she showed in her many tours during World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam Conflict earned her the nickname 'Colonel Maggie.' The American people honor Martha Raye, a woman who has tirelessly used her gifts to benefit the lives of her fellow Americans. [ 9 ] "