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Martha Raye in uniform during Vietnam WarIt can easily be said that Martha Raye was the female version of Bob Hope . . . with an unabashed love of America and tireless supporter of the troops.  Martha spent over fifty years doing what she could to be there for America's brave troops whether it was entertaining, comforting and treating the wounded, or being a motherly friend. 

And Martha was there for them . . . no matter where they were including in harm's way.  It was never about her, but the troops, which earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1993, the highest award given to civilians.USA Patriotism! also feels the thoughts from a veteran who was entertained by Martha Raye in 1967 at Phu Loi, S. Vietnam . . . is the best way to honor her as a Great American Patriot. 

In Bill McDonald's own words...

Martha Ray signing autogram for troops in Vietnam, 1967Almost everyone knows about all of Bob Hope's trips to Vietnam. He would do his annual Christmas Shows for TV, which were recorded live at some of the safest bases in Vietnam, while surrounded by TV cameras, reporters and lots of tanks and protective armed troops. I was at his Christmas Day show back in 1966, just north of Saigon. I enjoyed it very much. It was one of a few good memories that I have of my Tour of Duty. But, meeting Martha Raye – better known to the troops, as Colonel Maggie – was the highlight event of the year for me.

I met her in Phu Loi, South Vietnam, in the early part of 1967. She came to our small air field base camp, without any fan fare at all. She just arrived and began causally talking to us guys there. We of course knew of her from all her old movies. I made mention to her that I wanted a photo to show my mother – "who was her biggest fan" - and she turned that into a 5 minute comedy routine about how only the real old folks remembered her. She teased me about that and then put her arms around me.

She made fun of everything, including referring to herself as The Big Mouth! The guys in my unit, the 128th Assault Helicopter Company, were really impressed that she had come all the way out to see us. We never had any big name entertainers ever come through our camp; so her visit was something very special to all of us.

Martha Ray interacting with troops in Vietnam, 1967Later that day, I got my chance to get up on stage (the top of a flat bed truck) with her and get my photo taken with her (left). I found her to be a very real person, and she gave you the feeling that she really cared about you. There were neither reporters, nor TV cameras on her visit. She was there because we were there.

At that time, her reputation was rapidly growing among veterans. We heard many stories about her from the Special Forces Units out in Boondocks. When we would fly into almost any small SF camp, the guys would speak most highly of her. She was their hero for sure. She had been traveling to Vietnam (I am told that she paid her own way) and spent weeks, and sometimes up to six months at a time in country. She kept this pace up for over nine years during the Vietnam War. She was not there just to entertain the troops, but also engaged in nursing work where ever it was needed. She spent most of her time out in the field, or in the hospitals. She went to some of the most dangerous and remote locations in Nam.

She was not looking for any publicity, or photo opportunities; she went where she knew the need was the greatest. She visited base camps that no other entertainers dared to go to. She walked through the mud and rain and took the heat and mosquitoes all in stride. No one ever remembers her complaining about the food, the weather, transportation, or life in general. She spent time at places that did not have hot showers, let alone places for women to use a restroom. She had to endure the same hardships that the GIs did. Her job was to keep up our spirits and make us feel loved and appreciated. She didn't come to Nam for a visit; she came to work.. That for her meant sometimes going back and using her nursing skills and help with patients.

There were many stories going around about all the battles she had been in while in country. She did not try to shelter herself from harm's way, and she refused over and over again to allow anyone to risk his life to protect, or evacuate her to a safer place if she happened to be subjected to any kind of enemy attack. There is one story that made the rounds with the Special Forces units that we ran into, but somehow never made it into the newspapers, or on the evening news shows, at that time, that I can recall. I have some of the facts but not all of them. But this story reveals the real character of this wonderful woman warrior.Martha Ray interacting with troops in Vietnam, 1967 (2)

The story relates how Colonel Maggie, who was also a trained RN before going into the entertainment field, went to entertain and visit a very small Special Forces camp. (It could have been at Soc Trang, around the early part of 1967.)  I was told that she and some clarinet player, had gone to the camp to entertain, but while they were there the NVA attacked the camp. Mortar rounds and small arms fire were incoming. It appeared that there was a full-scale assault on the base camp. It was uncertain if the camp would be able to hold off the assault.. The camp medic was hit, and so with her being a nurse, she took over and began to assist with the treatment of the wounded who kept pouring into the aid station.

The camp was in great danger for several hours of being over run. The higher-ups in the military were trying to dispatch helicopters to the camp, but a combination of very bad weather and heavy fighting made that task a very dangerous mission for any crews that would be trying to come in to get the wounded, or to pull her out to a safer place. All this time, she was subjecting herself to the dangers of flying shrapnel and incoming automatic rifle rounds. She tended to the task that she was trained for – treating the wounded. She was said to have remained calm and fully active in doing her work – even with all the action taking place just outside the aid station. She kept focused on treating the wounded and did not seek shelter or safety for herself.

Martha Raye in her younger actress yearsShe kept refusing any and all rescue missions. She spent hours putting her skills as a nurse, to use treating patients and even assisting with surgery. She was in the operating room for 13 hours; she then went through the aid station talking with the wounded and making sure that they were okay. It was said that she worked without sleep or rest, until all the wounded were either treated, or evacuated out on a Huey (helicopter). She did not leave that camp until she was satisfied that all wounded were taken care of.This is just one of the many untold stories about Martha Raye – but ask enough Vietnam veterans about her and you will find even more tales of Colonel Maggie. She finally received some long overdue honors before she died. They ranged from the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Academy Award in 1968 for entertaining troops in Vietnam to the 1993 Presidential Medal of Freedom for her lifetime of dedication to America.

"Colonel Maggie," Martha Raye, was an honorary member of the Special Forces. She had received her prized Green Beret and the title of Lieutenant Colonel from President Lyndon B. Johnson, himself.

Known as "Colonel Maggie of the Boondocks" by her many military friends, Martha Raye (born Margaret Teresa Yvonne Reed on August 27, 1916) died October 19, 1994. Raye is buried in the military cemetery at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, an exception to policy she requested in 1992.

Bill McDonald's reflections about Martha Raye can be found in his
book, "A Spiritual Warrior's Journey", and on his site, The Vietnam Experience.

Martha Raye is also recognized as a Great American Patriot for her over all patriotic efforts.
Other Recognized Stars  More Tributes  |  Listen to Patriotic Songs / Music

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