The Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions." --American Statesman Daniel Webster (1782-1852)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Who is Martha Raye...?

I got this email from my Dad about a person called Martha Raye, so I decided to do a bit of research on her.  Apparently she spent a lot of time with the USO entertaining troops in a war zone.  My Dad being a Vietnam vet likes certain women, especially the ones that took the time to visit the troops.  I remember him talking about Nancy Sinatra and Raquel Welch among others,   Here is a list of the entertainers that visited the troops during Vietnam.  I think there is a special spot in Heaven for people like that :

The following entertainers performed for U.S. military personnel and their allies in the combat theatre during the Vietnam War (1959–1975):
     Well I had gotten a bit of information on Martha Raye and she had a fascinating story so I figured I would put it together for my blog.
Martha Raye (August 27, 1916 – October 19, 1994) was an American comic actress and standards singer who performed in movies, and later on television. She was honored in 1969 with an Academy Award as the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award recipient for her volunteer efforts and services to the troops.

During World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, she travelled extensively to entertain American troops despite her lifelong fear of flying.
In October 1966 she went to Soc Trang, South Vietnam, to entertain the troops at the base which was the home base of the 121st Aviation company known as the Soc Trang Tigers and their gunship platoon known as the Vikings, and the 336th Aviation company known as the Warriors and their gunship platoon known as 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 the servicemen could all watch her show. She often served as a nurse on these trips.
During that time, as a serviceman flying a "Huey Slick" helicopter carrying troops recalled, it had received combat damage severe enough to force its 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 flier. 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."

In 1968, she was given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, in the form of an Oscar.
On November 2, 1993, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton for her service to her country. 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. "

Her final years were plagued by ill health. She suffered from Alzheimer's disease and had lost both legs in 1993 from poor circulation. She died in Los Angeles at 78 of pneumonia on October 19, 1994 after a long history of cardiovascular disease.
In appreciation of her work with the USO during World War II and subsequent wars, special consideration was given to bury her in Arlington National Cemetery on her death, but on her request she was buried with full military honors in the Fort Bragg, North Carolina post cemetery as an honorary colonel in the U.S. Marines and an honorary lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. She is the only civilian buried at that location who receives military honors each Veterans' Day.

Raye has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for motion pictures at 6251 Hollywood Boulevard and the other for television at 6547 Hollywood Blvd.



  1. Hanoi Jane Fonda wasn't on your list. Oh, wait, wrong troops.

    Martha was quite the looker in her day. I didn't know about the honorary Marine thing. I remember a lot of the people on that list from back during the Viet Nam festivities. My first wife had a autographed picture of Ann Margret. Raquel was my personal favorite. The picture of her in that furry bikini from 1.000,000 BC stayed on my adolescent bedroom wall for along time.

  2. Good one, and she DID pitch in on more than one occasion, but she was never actually on active or reserve duty...