“Colonel Maggie” was taken to her final resting place on October 19, 1994 by her Special Forces troops. She is the only woman buried at the Special Forces Cemetery at Fort Bragg.
Honorary Army Green Beret Lt. Colonel and honorary Marine Full-bird Colonel Martha Raye was born Margaret Teresa Yvonne Reed to Vaudevillian perfomers Peter and Maybelle Hazel(Hooper) at St. James Hospital in Butte, Montana on August 27,1916.
Margie, at the age of three, joined her brother as the popular act of “Margie and Bud” and became a singer, dancer, actress and comic, Married seven times, Martha Raye was a huge star in the 1930s and 40s, performing with all the greats of stage and film.
Joining the U.S.O. in 1942, Martha first entertained the troops across Europe, North Africa and the Pacific during World War II; she would continue her U.S.O. tours for two more wars.
Although never formerly trained as a registered nurse, she received on-the-job training as a Special Forces medic and at times a surgeon.
Adored by the troops and given the name Colonel Maggie, she made her five parachute jumps and was awarded her cherished Parachute Wings, which she wore proudly. She always wore her Green Beret, which she was also very proud of, and her rank insignia and ribbons while in uniform.
Paying her own expenses, Colonel Maggie would stay months with her troops in Vietnam, often flying in blood soaked Evac choppers, saving many lives and personally loading many wounded and K.I.A.s herself; she came to love these troops.
She originally went to Vietnam to entertain the troops and after being caught in a firefight with Viet Cong regulars at the Special Forces 25th Division Infantry camp, “The Big Mouth”, wearing tiger-striped fatigues, green beret and Oak leaf clusters, pulled rank and joined in treating “her troops” before being evavacuated with the rest of the entertainers to Tay Ninh. On another ocaasion, during a days’ long battle near Soc Trang, Colonel Maggie would cover the surgical shift working all day long and finishing the nights with her shows.
Her California home, known by warriors as “Team House”, carried an open invitation to all Special Forces troops.
She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and by the way, an Oscar.
Given a plot at Arlington, Colonel Maggie requested to be buried on Fort Bragg, NC. After she died on October 19, 1994 of Alzheimer’s, diabetes, pneumonia and heart disease, her body was transported to Fort Bragg and was given full military honors. Colonel Maggie was taken to her final resting place by Special Forces troops and is the only civilian buried at the Post Cemetery.
Grace “Gracie” MacEachern
Grace “Gracie” MacEachern
was born Mary Grace Gagnon. She was a Canadian ‘para-belle’(para-rescue nurse; the only medical personnel to jump out of airplanes on rescue missions). Rescuing a geologist from Mount Coquitlam, B.C., maked her the first woman to do an operational jump in para-rescue. She started as a nursing sister for the Grey Nuns in the Pembroke, Ontario, area. In 1951, after her first husband passed, she joined the Canadian Armed Forces, where she received a commission as a pilot officer, enrolling in the para-rescue course at the age of 32.
(April 21, 1922)
(April 21, 1922)
A veteran of the French resistance, Valérie André is a parachutist, medical doctor, and she is the first woman to have piloted a helicopter into a combat zone. She is also a founding member of the Académie de l’air et de l’espace (French National Air and Space Academy), the first French woman to earn the rank of Officer, later becoming the first woman Major General and Inspector General of Medicine. She was a pioneer helicopter pilot, flying a Hiller Model 360 to rescue wounded and dying soldiers from the battlefield during the French Vietnamese conflict. During her career as a pilot and physician, Doctor Andre piloted 129 helicopter missions, rescuing 165 soldiers, often engaging in parachute jumps to treat wounded soldiers requiring immediate medical attention and surgery.
Valérie Marie André was born in Strasbourg, France on April 21, 1922 to Philibert André, a professor at the Strasbourg Lycée.
With an early interest in medicine, Valérie André received a doctorate from the University of Paris Faculty of Medicine in 1948. Two years after France had become embroiled in the bloody and disastrous war with the Communist-led Vietminh in French Idochina (Vietnam), André joined the military and went to Vietnam as a Medical Captain. Already a qualified parachutist and pilot, she realized that the most difficult part of her duties was rescuing and saving the wounded, who were often trapped in the jungle. So, she returned to France, learned how to pilot a helicopter and flew one back to Indochina.
On December 11, 1951, when casualties were in urgent need of evacuation from Tu Vu on the Black River and the only available helicopter, stationed near Saigon, was dismantled, flown to Hanoi and reassembled. Captain André then flew into Tu Vu despite heavy mist and anti-aircraft fire. There, she triaged the casualties, operated on the most serious cases and then flew the critically wounded back to Hanoi, two at a time. Later, she was put in command of a casualty evacuation flight. From 1952-1953, she piloted 129 helicopter missions into the jungle, rescuing 165 soldiers, and on two occasions completed parachute jumps to treat wounded soldiers who needed immediate surgery.
She performed heroically, under dangerous combat conditions, including the months-long siege of the fortress at Dienbienphu.
In 1952, she became commanding officer of helicopter pilots at the Gialam air base in Tonkin province, later assigned to the hospital at My Tho; she was transferred to the staff of the French women’s infirmary in Saigon. Her skills were quickly recognized, and she was soon working as an assistant neurosurgeon at the Coste Military Hospital.
In 1953, Captain André was knighted into the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honor), France’s highest award.
In 1954, the French were defeated at Dienbienphu and withdrew from Indochina. She left Vietnam to serve as research physician at the Brétignysur-Orge aviation test center, a position she held for the next five years.
By the late 1950s, the bloody colonial war has escalated in Algeria, and Valérie André was once again actively involved in military operations, serving as medical commander of the 23rd Helicopter Squadron, as well as chief medical officer at the Reghaïa Air Base where she completed 365 war missions. When the Algerian war was also lost in 1962, André returned to France where she became medical commander at the Villacoublay base. In December 1963, she took time off from foreign colonial wars and was married to Alexis Santini, a fellow officer in the aviation service. André’s military career continued to flourish. In 1965, she became a Lieutenant Colonel in the Medical Corps and in 1970 achieved the rank of Colonel. In 1976, she was promoted to Director of Health Services of the Fourth Air Region. In 1980–81, she also directed medical services of the Second Air Region and received the rank of Physician Inspector-general, which gave her the equivalency of the rank and authority of a Major General. In 1983, she became a founding member of the French National Air and Space Academy.
Valérie André has a total of 3200 flight hours and has received 7 citations of the Croix de guerre.
She is one of eight women to hold the Grand-croix (Great Cross) in the Legion of Honour (the first woman to receive this distinction). Her awards include theCroix de guerre with 7 citations, Croix de guerre des Théâtres d’opérations extérieures, Médaille de la Valeur Militaire, Médaille commémorative d’Indochine, Médaille de l’Aéronautique, Médaille du Combattant Volontaire, Médaille de Vermeil du service de santé, Grande Médaille d’or du l’Aéro-club de France; foreign decorations include the National Order of Vietnam Cross of Valour and the Legion of Merit from the USA.
She has written two collections of memoirs: Ici, Ventilateur! Extraits d’un carnet de vol, and her autobiography: Madame le Général, published in 1988. As a member of the military, she is not addressed as “Madame la Générale”, a title reserved for spouses of generals but as “General”.
Valérie André still resides in Issy-les-Moulineaux, less than one mile from the Paris Heliport, on the top floor of a six-story building, her home since the 1950s. Speaking in a recent interview on the location of the apartment: “I wanted a lot of sky,”
“I wanted women to be real combatants, not just airclub pilots.”