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Martha Raye in Vietnam

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Martha Raye

Martha Raye

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In this forwarded tale, a purported eyewitness recounts how entertainer Martha Raye helped save wounded soldiers in the field during a USO tour of Vietnam in 1967.

Description: Viral anecdote
Circulating since: 2010
Status: Mixed (see details below)


2012 example:
Viral text as posted on Facebook, Feb. 8, 2012:

Remembering Martha Raye....

I remember her as a funny lady, with a loud voice... didn't know this about her... what an awesome lady...

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 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, 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 mam.... 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..



2010 example:
Forwarded email contributed by Deano, May 23, 2010:

Martha Raye

Some of you remember Martha Raye very well. A comedian and singer, she, like Joe E. Louis had a large mouth and appeared with Bob Hope, and on other radio programs and usually played supportive roles in comedy films and musicals. She was also loved for the work she did entertaining troops in WWII and Korea.

Some things you probably did not know about Martha Raye.

Most of the old time entertainers were made out of a lot sterner stuff than today's crop of activists and whiners.

It was just before Thanksgiving '67 and we were ferrying dead and wounded from a large GRF west of Pleiku, Vietnam. 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 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' Colonel in the US Army Reserve, and on this is a 'Caduses' 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.

So many have done so much that we hear so little about -- thanks a lot to these people who stand up to be counted.



Analysis: It's a bit of a challenge separating fact from fiction in Martha Raye's storied life, but here goes.

Born in 1916, Martha "Maggie" Raye started her show business career by taking the stage with her parents, a pair of small-time vaudevillians, at the age of three. She made her name as a big band vocalist in the early 1930s, which led to numerous film and national radio appearances over the course of the decade.

In 1942 she volunteered to serve in the USO, entertaining American troops in Europe, North Africa, and the South Pacific over the course of World War II. During the 1950s she sang, danced, joked her way from military base to military base across Korea. Between 1965 and 1973 she made numerous tours of Southeast Asia to entertain U.S. soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War. It was during this period that she earned the reputation of being a rough-and-ready, impromptu combat nurse. Tributes from grateful veterans abound.

To cite one documented example, Raye canceled a show at a base in the Mekong Delta in mid-October 1966 to help tend soldiers wounded in a Viet Cong attack on Army helicopters. "American casualties began arriving by 8 a.m. at the small Soc Trang dispensary," Associated Press reported a few days later. "Miss Raye, a former nurse, arrived about the same time, dressed in Army fatigues and volunteering for duty."

The story continued:

One of the first things she did was donate a pint of blood to a badly wounded sergeant. Then it was hour after hour of scrubbing and preparing the wounded for surgery, helping the surgeons, changing bandages, and cheering up men awaiting evacuation to field hospitals in Vung Tau or Saigon.

Miss Raye's show did not go on that night. The next morning she was back at the hospital in her stained fatigues, helping the one doctor and eight corpsmen care for the patients.

As a result of her extraordinary efforts, President Lyndon Johnson awarded her a green beret and the honorary rank of lieutenant colonel in the Special Forces. Raye took to wearing a uniform and beret everywhere she went on subsequent tours of Vietnam, and was fondly known to the troops ever after as "Colonel Maggie."

Whether or not she was actually a trained or licensed nurse is a matter of some dispute, however. The AP story referenced above described Raye as a "former nurse." A subsequent article published in 1970 went so far as to state that she had been a registered nurse since 1936 and actually served in that capacity during World War II. It appears this information came from Raye herself, who was quoted as saying, "I went as a nurse but, being an entertainer, could do both."

In her biography of Raye, Take it from the Big Mouth: The Life of Martha Raye, author Jean Pitrone writes that while Raye routinely told people she had worked as a nurse's aide at Cedars of Lebanon (now Cedars-Sinai) Hospital in her youth and "boasted of being a registered nurse" as an adult, in reality she was neither a registered nor a practical nurse.

Noonie Fortin, author of Memories of Maggie — Martha Raye: A Legend Spanning Three Wars, concurs:

Although she had nurse's aide (candy striper) training in the '30s she never became a licensed practical or registered nurse. BUT she did learn nursing care via on-the-job (OJT) training during air raids while entertaining troops in Africa and England when an extra pair of hands were much needed for the wounded soldiers. Years later when she spent so much time in Vietnam — her OJT was put to work again. She helped out in the X-ray, Triage, Operating Rooms and many other areas. Many soldiers believed she was a nurse in the Army or Army Reserve. She was not though she did hold honorary military titles (ranks).

In the end, it isn't Martha Raye's credentials that matter most, of course; it's her actions. She was a true patriot and humanitarian who dedicated much of her life to giving joy and succor to American servicemen and women in wartime. In 1993 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bill Clinton. After dying of pneumonia a year later at the age of 78, Raye was buried with military honors, even though a civilian, at Fort Bragg Main Post Cemetery in North Carolina.

See also:
'Hanoi Jane' Fonda Email Blends Fact and Fiction
Was Tom Hanks' Father Lead Singer of The Diamonds?
Was Mr. Rogers a Marine Sniper / Navy Seal?
Captain Kangaroo and Lee Marvin - War Buddies?


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Sources and further reading:

Martha Raye Works as Nurse in Vietnam
Associated Press, 24 October 1966

Milwaukeean Saves Martha Raye
Milwaukee Journal, 30 November 1967

Martha Raye to Be Nurse in Vietnam
Associated Press, 18 August 1970

For Martha Raye, a Military Burial
Milwaukee Journal, 22 October 1994

Martha Raye
ColonelMaggie.com, 24 July 2010

Colonel Maggie - Nurse, Entertainer, and Honorary Green Beret
The Vietnam Experience, 2001

Gravesite: Martha Raye (1916 - 1994)
FindAGrave.com


Last updated 01/23/13

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