The Stories of the Museum Series


More than a thousand military men and women and family members have donated thousands of personal items and stories to the museum over the past forty years. The displays span World War I to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and tell the stories of those who fought and died. This series of stories describes a few of these in more detail.

                                             STORIES OF THE MUSEUM

                                                         NUMBER SEVEN   

                                                     COLONEL MAGGIE

                                  THE CLOWN PRINCESS OF COMEDY

        by Bill Crocker

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   There once was a woman, a very gregarious and dynamic woman who was the best at making people laugh. She was a comedian, a singer, and an actor. She was the female equivalent of Bob Hope, the clown princess of comedy. Martha Raye was known to millions as the comedian with the big mouth during the first half of the twentieth century. She performed in Vaudeville, the stage, movies, radio, and early TV and received numerous awards during her career. 

   What many do not know about Raye is her dedication to our troops. She entertained them through World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Civilians who accompanied armed forces were issued non-military identification cards to present in the event of capture. These category IV cards represented the equivalent authority of majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels. As her years of USO service progressed, Raye, not known for a retiring personality, took this status a step further and began wearing a uniform with the rank on it. By the end of the Vietnam conflict, she had been awarded the honorary ranks of lieutenant colonel in the Army and colonel in the Marines. 

   Somewhere during the decades with the USO, Raye gained nursing skills by helping in field hospitals in the areas where she was entertaining. She made trips to Vietnam for nine years, sometimes for several months at a time both entertaining and working as a nurse, often at her own expense. She covered surgical shifts at the Army Field Hospital in Pleiku several times. She loved the Green Berets. She made five qualified jumps with them and was wounded twice during this period. She was awarded an honorary commission as a lieutenant colonel in the Green Berets in 1964 by President Johnson, was henceforth known as Colonel Maggie, and proudly wore the beret. 

   Colonel Maggie received a certificate for patriotic civilian service from the United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, for meritorious service in October 1966. While entertaining at Soc Trang, many casualties were brought to the military hospital for emergency treatment. Realizing the hospital was overburdened, she stopped the show and volunteered to work as a nurse. She continued to work throughout the evening and into the morning hours. She donated blood, cleansed wounds, prepared patients for surgery, and applied dressings. Only after the wounded were cared for did she resume her show.

    Martha passed away on 19 October 1994 and was buried with full military honors in Fort Bragg Main Post Cemetery, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the only civilian to be so honored. 

    Martha Raye’s display may be viewed in the glass case marked A-4 that includes a personal handwritten note from her to museum founder, Dann Spear.  


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