It 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.
Bill McDonald's own words...
Almost 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
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.
Later 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
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.
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.
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.
She 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,
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
book, "A Spiritual Warrior's Journey", and on his site,
The Vietnam Experience.