When actress, singer, comedienne Martha Raye donned a uniform to make the movie Four Jills in a Jeep it became the first of many uniforms she would wear in her lifetime service to our troops in the field. I met Martha Raye, or Colonel Maggie, as she had become known, in the late '60s. She had just returned from Soc Trang in Viet Nam and was starring in a music fair play called Hello Sucker. The play was in nearby Smithville and we invited Col Maggie to come to McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, for the Anniversary of Women in the Air Force.In spite of her busy schedule she said yes and could she wear her uniform. I was the squadron commander of over two hundred women and constantly admonishing my young ladies to look feminine, wear make-up, and act dignified, both in uniform and out. The afternoon that Col. Maggie showed up I was flabbergasted.
This is what she wore:
A complete male Army Green uniform including combat boots, with trousers tucked in the top of the boots, shirt, tie and Green Beret.
But it didn't really matter. The troops loved her and she was a delight. She spent the entire afternoon talking and joking with the young Air Force women who loved hearing about Col Maggie's adventures in World War Two and in Viet Nam. Martha Raye, the gracious actress, then invited the entire squadron to her performance that evening, as her guests!
"Captain Barb" and "Colonel Maggie"We scrambled for enough vehicles to get us there on time and just before the performance was due to start a voice on the speakers asked the audience to rise, and to join Miss Raye in her traditional pledge to the flag and the singing of our National Anthem. Martha Raye came in to an ovation, stepped over to the edge and gently but firmly pulled two of us on stage with her. She introduced the WAF Squadron, to whom she dedicated her performance, had me lead the Pledge of Allegiance with a salute, then sang the National Anthem as I have never heard it performed.
Colonel Maggie is no longer with us, but hundreds of men and women will remember her. She began entertaining the troops in 1942, traveling all over the world to be with them. For nine years she went to Viet Nam, sometimes staying as long as six months. Not only did she perform on stage but when things got rough she filled in as a nurse, often going hours without a break.
In 1993 Martha Raye was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her lifetime service to America. When she died a special exception to policy was made so that she could be buried in the military cemetery at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. For fifty years Colonel Maggie served the military she loved. Those of us who knew her considered her as much, if not moreso, a part of the Armed Forces. She wore the uniform proudly; she wore the uniform in the trenches; she wore the uniform in the mud instead of on stage; and she deserves to be remembered for those fifty years of unique and totally dedicated military service.
Colonel Maggie - we salute you!
Visit the author of a wonderful book about Martha Raye Memories of Maggie
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