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MARTHA RAYE - Truth and eFiction

Who would have thought that a woman such as Martha Raye would have been accorded the singular honor of being laid to rest in the Fort Bragg Main Post Cemetery.  When we learned of that fact ... and why ... it seemed fitting that she be mentioned here as she was a memorable entertainer who literally risked life and limb to come see us year after year.

Studio photos

Lt Col Maggie

Martha Raye and SF troops, South Viet Nam, 1968
(photo by Lou Gutierrez)

The OSCAR was presented to her on 14 April 1969 by Bob Hope during the 41st Academy Awards Show.

One of the three stars for Maggie on the Hollywood Walk of fame


The most unforgivable oversight of TV is that her shows were not taped.

This is a great story about a great woman. We were 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 out of a lot sterner stuff than today's crop of activists and 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 [passengers], a 'Smart Ass' 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 M Ďam.... 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..

Noonie Fortin, Martha Raye's biographer told TruthOrFiction.com that Raye was lovingly called "Colonel Maggie" but the rank of Lt. Colonel and membership of the Green Beret Special Forces unit were both honorary. The entertainer was also an honorary Colonel in the United States Marine Corps.

Fortin, who wrote "Memories of Maggie," also said that it was not uncommon for Ms. Raye to jump in to assist in caring for wounded serviceman throughout her history with the USO. Fortin said "She would often pull rank, pointing out the oak leaf or bird on her collar and Green Beret as well as the nurse's emblem. Likewise she often helped out in the surgical units and wards."

The Department of Defense issues non-military identification cards to civilians who accompany armed forces to present in the event of capture. Each card contains the person's name and vital statistics such as height, weight, eye color and blood type. The cards also have what is called a "Geneva Conventions category." Category IV issued to such volunteers which is a rank equivalent to majors, lieutenant-colonels, colonels.

Fortin told TruthOrFiction.com that "Maggie took it a step further and began wearing a uniform with the rank on it. As time progressed so did the honorary rank she held. By the time Vietnam ended she was a Lieutenant Colonel for the Army and Colonel for the Marines but wasn't really a member of either branch. Everything was honorary including the ribbons that she would often wear though some years later were actually awarded to her."

Raye received numerous awards and commendations from the military in appreciation for her years of service and in 1993, President Bill Clinton awarded the entertainer with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Raye died on the 19th October, 1994 and was buried among veterans of many wars at the Fort Bragg Cemetery in Fayetteville, NC. Special request had been made for her to be buried there since she wasn't military.

The Colonel Maggie web site is maintained by Fortin and has a impressive display of Martha Raye's biography and awards.
[Click to visit the Colonel Maggie site]

Entrance to the Main Post Cemetery, Fort Bragg, NC

looking across the cemetery grounds, it invokes memories of so many other national cemeteries

Grave marker for Martha Raye, labeled simply as "Civilian", in the Fort Bragg Main Post Cemetery, NC.

(above photos courtesy of Lou Gutierrez)

Medal of Honor presented to Colonel Maggie on 15 November 1993 in her BelAir, California home by Medal of Honor recipient retired MSG Roy Benavidez, USA Special Forces.  MSG Benavidez is one the the two MOH recipients honored by the naming of the Benavidez-Patterson All Airborne Chapter of the 82d in El Paso, TX.  This is the same chapter that will host the Fiesta VI reunion in July 2012.  


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