"Potpourri Of War" Excerpt
This page was last updated on 20 January 2016.
Thirty-three years ago on a makeshift stage atop a sand dune at Chu Lai, South Vietnam, Martha Raye brought a couple of hours of America and sanity to a bunch of scared and lonely Marines, Seabees and sailors. After the show Martha and her very small troupe ate the same field rations that we were eating, she walked among us, talked to us, took pictures with us...she brought us a bit of home. I only had one group picture taken with her...but how can one forget those unselfish, loving moments of her?
October 20, 1994: I cried! The brief article on the front
page of our local newspaper announced that Martha “Colonel Maggie” Raye had
died. I couldn’t finish my breakfast, I just got up from the counter, paid the
check, and headed to school (Seekonk High School.) As I signed the teacher
check-in sheet the principal noticed that something was wrong and invited me
into his office. Once again I openly wept. I never expected this to happen...I
don’t cry easily or publicly. The loss I felt was real and hurt like hell. As
I left his office the principal asked “are you OK?” I answered “Yes but I
just lost a friend...America just lost a friend!”
Noonie Fortin’s first book Memories of Maggie told
of such brief encounters with Maggie three-plus decades ago along with many,
many other loving remembrances of a great lady. Potpourri Of War is not
only an amazing continuation of the “Colonel Maggie” legend, it is an
important chronicle of a segment of our population that has served this country
in both military and civilian capacities with dedication and bravery, yet has
gone essentially unnoticed...namely, American women amidst our wars!
Potpourri Of War is one of those books that you hope
never ends. You just want to keep reading, savoring the contents. I thought Memories
of Maggie told the whole story but Potpourri Of War proved me wrong.
As I read Potpourri, I began to understand that Noonie had just
“begun” to record Maggie’s story in Memories of Maggie. I don’t
think that she realized just how much of Maggie was in the hearts of America’s
veterans until Maggie was published.
At each book signing or veterans events Noonie listened to
many new stories and made contact with people who would send her letters and
pictures of their experience with Maggie. Oddly, stories about other women began
to surface in significant numbers. It became evident to Noonie that though
Maggie might be the focal point for a second book (Potpourri) the story
of other American women who served their country needed to be told.
Potpourri Of War is an important work because it
starts to paint a picture of the many women who have served in or alongside our
military forces “in every clime and place,”* in every war, conflict or
police action of the 20th century. The women Noonie writes about are military
personnel, USO and Red Cross workers, Hollywood stars and relatives of veterans.
Most of these women went to war in a significantly different
way than men did but just the same they “went to war.” Sharon Lane didn’t
carry a gun or didn’t fly a combat mission yet she lost her life in Vietnam
trying to save those that did. The Gold Star or POW/MIA mother didn’t shoulder
a weapon either yet she suffers a fate worse than death. The women killed in
Operation Babylift never humped the boonies yet paid the ultimate price on the
fields of Vietnam. Journalist Georgette “Dickey” Chapelle was killed at Chu
Lai, while I was there, by a Viet Cong booby trap. The chapter “Brave Women”
is a stark and moving reminder that the horror of war is not gender specific!
Potpourri Of War is just that--a potpourri of accounts
and reminiscences, but it is also a history. Noonie’s simple and straight
forward style make Potpourri Of War a wonderfully easy book to read and
Noonie has given us the story of Maggie and all those other
great ladies in a format that will last forever. She has given this country a
plethora of heroic women at a time when real heroes male or female are few and
far between. Just maybe it should be required reading for all of our young
Bless you, Noonie!
*Line from the Marine Corps Hymn
Carlos Rivera invited me to speak at El Paso's only ceremony to be held on
Veterans Day. Fort Bliss and the US Army Sergeant’s Major Academy (USASMA) on
Biggs Air Field located there. White Sands Missile Range is within fifty miles
and Holloman Air Force Base within eighty miles, so I was surprised there were
not several ceremonies.
Most of our national holidays have been changed to Mondays so
people can have long weekends. It’s no wonder students today don't know
important dates. Presidents Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays are no longer
celebrated on the proper date; instead they have been combined into one day.
Veteran’s Day, 1996
I was eager to see the turnout for the Veterans Day ceremony.
Loaded with books and briefcase, I headed for the Veterans
Outreach Center. I had no trouble locating a parking space; that was a clue! The
Ysleta High School Junior (JrROTC) cadets were practicing for their part of the
ceremony. A disc jockey played music from different war periods.
The color guard presented The Colors. The crowd joined in the
Pledge of Allegiance. The invocation was given. Carlos identified special people
in the audience. There were no elected officials, no representatives from Fort
Bliss or the USASMA, and no Gold Star Mothers in attendance. Following
introductions, I addressed approximately four hundred people.
My talk included stories about my friends and classmates who
had gone to Vietnam, the three young men who died there, the Korean War and
their memorial in Washington, DC, the POW/MIAs that are still unaccounted for,
and Maggie. I spoke about Lieutenant Colonel Frances Liberty’s (Colonel Lib)
passage in Memories of Maggie, the Nebraska Vietnam Veterans Reunion, and
my motivation for writing my book to keep Maggie’s memory alive. Veterans
should be honored everyday, not just on Memorial Day or Veterans Day. I voiced
the observation that our students need to learn more about America's wars. I
threw out the challenge to instill patriotism in the hearts of our younger
generation. The JrROTC group did a flag folding ceremony and presented the flag
to William Leonard, an El Paso citizen who is an Ex-POW.
Bill arranged for me to address his Ex-POW Chapter a few
months later. I was surprised to learn there were more than 120 Ex-POWs in the
El Paso area, but equally amazed that few of them attended the meetings. Bill
Leonard had high praise for Maggie and my book. He said they all learned a lot
that evening about a great American--Martha Raye. There were many folks who
shared their memories of personal encounters with Maggie.
Esther Perez invited me to address the El Paso School
District and VFW Post 5615 about patriotism and the lack of wartime knowledge
among students. The Post was honoring surviving Veterans and those who died at
Pearl Harbor in 1941, as well as members of Company E (mostly El Pasoans whose
National Guard unit was mobilized for the war.) Young Marines in the audience
that day were attentive. The older generation shook their heads when I said the
students weren’t being taught much about our wars.
Bob Greenwood invited me to speak to the Pearl Harbor
Survivors Association on Pearl Harbor Day and to attend a meeting for the El
Paso War Veterans Museum.
Jose Robles told me he was a Veteran of both the Korean and
Vietnam Wars. He met Maggie while he was serving near DaNang with the Third
Carlos Garcia is now a private investigator. In 1968 he was
at Camp Eagle in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division. He was part of the
Psychological Operations when he saw Maggie there.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Lou Lopez remembered that Maggie
visited his team on 30 December 1970. He was with B-Fifty-five, part of the
Fifth Special Forces Group. He brought along a painting of Maggie, which she had
autographed to him.
Ralph Dominguez invited me to attend the next Special Forces
Chapter IX meeting in El Paso, but a schedule conflict put this off to early
Retired Army Nurse Colonel Ramona DeLaney remembered
Lieutenant Colonel Frances Liberty and wanted to know how to reach her. Ramona
was the Chief Nurse 1970-1971 at the Twenty-fourth Evacuation Hospital in
A gentleman introduced himself as Franklin. He was in
NhaTrang in 1963-1964 as an advisor to a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP)
when he met Maggie for the first time. During his two other tours of duty in
Vietnam, 1966-1967 and 1969-1970, he saw her often.
Christina Graves, Chief of Volunteers at the Health Care
Center, invited me to be the keynote speaker on Valentines Day 1997. That day is
devoted to saluting hospitalized Veterans and the volunteers who help care for
Copyright 1998-2016 by Noonie Fortin. All rights reserved.