In a previous column this summer, I wrote about the great jazzman Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, who grew up penniless and virtually fatherless to be one of America’s most loved and admired jazz musicians. Recently a friend drew my attention to an article on Hurricane Ida. Ida was a deadly and destructive Category 4 Atlantic hurricane, recorded as the second most destructive and intense hurricane to hit the state of Louisiana, just after Katrina. The massive storm hit New Orleans, tearing apart homes and turning the streets into raging rivers. He also destroyed a historic store that was once a second home for Satchmo. The Karnoffsky family owned the shop, Jewish immigrants who owned a tailoring shop on Rampart Street, a few blocks from the French Quarter. The family lived in the apartment above the store. When Armstrong started hanging out with the five Karnoffsky brothers, their father gave him his first job: getting on the family junk and blowing a “tin horn” to attract customers. This “pewter horn” turned out to be his first instrument. Morris Karnoffsky later gave Armstrong an advance to purchase a cone from a pawnshop. Mr. Karnoffsky’s kindness helped launch a musical genius. In his biography, Armstrong recalled the family with love and gratitude for the delicious meals that fed him, the roof over his head, and the generosity of the Karnoffsky family.
Sadly, the city of New Orleans did not see fit to restore the graffiti covered building that played such a vital role in the youth of one of its most famous sons. Sadly, it has remained empty over the years, surrounded by wasteland and reduced to rubble by the force of Hurricane Ida.
Did you know that the movie “Forrest Gump” was selected by the Library of Congress in 2011 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically important? I recently enjoyed a documentary on the making of the iconic film, which starred Tom Hanks as a slow-witted but pure-hearted AlaBAMA! boy who became a war hero, and was present, for several decades, at several important events in American history. I think Forrest would love to know that his life is listed in the National Film Registry. No more running for Forrest Gump!
Did you know that singer Martha Raye (1916-1994) was one of the most beloved USO artists in American history, from 1942 to the Vietnamese era? Known for the size of her mouth, which was large in relation to her face, Raye earned the nickname “The Big Mouth”. Loud mouth or not, her patriotism was rarely matched, as she presented her shows to troops during World War II, the Korean Wars and Vietnam. Most artists of old were made of “the good things”. Martha Raye may have endured less comfort and more danger than any other Vietnamese artist, earning her the title of “Colonel Maggie”. Unfortunately, his shows were not recorded, too bad! While reading about Raye, I came across a story told by a member of special forces units from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The following is from an Army aviator who takes a trip down memory lane:
“It was just before Thanksgiving 67, and we were transporting dead and wounded from a large GRF west of Pleiku. We ran out of body bags by noon so the Hook (CH-47 CHINOOK) was pretty rough in the back. All of a sudden we heard the voice of a ‘pick up’ from the back. The voice is from “The Big Mouth” herself, singer and actress Martha Raye, wearing a special forces beret and jungle fatigues with discreet markings. She helped the wounded get on the Chinook and carried the dead on board. “Colonel Maggie” had visited his Special Forces “heroes” in “the West”.
“We took off, out of fuel, and headed for the USAF hospital in Pleiku. As we all began to unload our sad pax, a “smart” USAF captain said to Martha, “Miss Ray, with all these deaths and injuries to deal with, there will be no time for your show!” To our surprise, she took off her right collar and said, “Captain, do you see that eagle?” I’m a full-fledged “bird” in the US Army Reserve, and on it is a caduceus, which means I’m a surgical nurse. Now take me to your wounded! The captivated captain said, “Yes, ma’am. Follow me.'”
Repeatedly at the Army Field Hospital in Pleiku, Colonel Maggie “covers” a shift from surgery, giving a nurse a much needed break. In 1968, she received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Prize in the form of an Oscar. After his death, the statuette was on display for many years in a specially constructed lighted niche at the Friars Club in Beverly Hills. On November 2, 1993, President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his service to his country. The quote reads as follows:
A talented performer whose career spans nearly a century, Martha Raye has delighted audiences and uplifted spirits around the world. She brought her formidable comedic and musical skills to her work in film, on stage and on television, helping to shape American entertainment. The great courage, kindness and patriotism of his many tours during WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War earned him the nickname “Colonel Maggie”. The American people honor Martha Raye, a woman who tirelessly used her gifts for the benefit of the lives of her fellow Americans.
Martha Raye’s final resting place is in Main Post Cemetery in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
First Saturday of the month at Don Patron, 8000 Jerry Dove Drive, # 101. Spend a Sunday morning or Saturday evening sipping coffee, checking out cars, and chatting with other enthusiasts.
Davitt McAteer will speak on Sunday, September 19 at 2 p.m. at the Folklife Center on the Fairmont State University campus. McAteer is a native of Fairmont and former Assistant Secretary of the Mine Safety and Health Administration. He will talk about his book, Monongah: The Tragic Story of the 1907 Monongah Mine Disaster. McAteer’s nearly thirty years of research suggests that nearly 500 men and boys, many of them immigrants, lost their lives that day, leaving hundreds of women widowed and more than a thousand orphaned children.
This event is free and open to the public; however, places are limited due to campus COVID-19 protocols. Please call 304-367-4403 or email [email protected] for a reservation. Masks are mandatory. There will be a reception after the presentation. This event will also be broadcast live on the Frank and Jane Gabor WV Folklife Center Facebook page.