Most of us that served in Vietnam were occasionally treated to some entertainment in the form of Go-Go Dancers, singers and musicians who would come to Vietnam and entertain us.

The best known was the Bob Hope Shows, but few of us were ever actually able to attend one of his Christmas Specials. Instead, we were treated to shows by Filipino bands and occasional Australian or American entertainers.

Not until today did I know that many of those entertainers were not under the USO, but were booked privately to play at various Military Clubs and remote bases, being largely left to their own accord for security and protection, except of course when at a Base camp performing.

Some lost their lives or sustained wounds while touring. Here are their stories:

Martha Raye

Martha Raye. known as “The Big Mouth” was considered the female equivalent of Bob Hope. Martha Raye was an American icon. It was well-recognized that she endured less comfort and more danger than any other Vietnam entertainer.  

“Colonel Maggie,” Martha Raye, was an honorary member of the Special Forces. She had received her prized Green Beret and the title of Lieutenant Colonel from President Lyndon B. Johnson, himself.

From 1964 to 1973, Martha traveled from camp to camp in isolated areas throughout Vietnam, making eight (8) visits. She would stay “in-country” from four to six months at a time–usually at her own expense–to be with the troops she so dearly loved. She used the nurse’s aide skills she learned back in the 1930s, and surgical techniques she picked up during World War II to help treat the wounded. Whatever her official nursing qualifications, her help was often needed and very much appreciated. Her presence, whether as an entertainer or as a nurse, helped to make life bearable for so many enlisted troops and officers.

Hollywood blacklisted her as a warmonger for working ten years on and off with the medics under fire in the field. She was wounded twice while visiting these remote bases, but didn’t let it interfere with taking care of her troops. Maggie died in 1994 at 78 and is the only non-military person buried in Fort Bragg.

For more information on Colonel Maggie, check out this other article on my website:

Cathy Wayne

Joe Martin and Cathy Wayne with Leslie Uggams on TV Special

The teenage pop star from Australia ignored the warnings and embarked on a tour of military bases in Vietnam. Things were going well with her “Sweethearts On Parade” tour until one night, 50 years ago, at a U.S. Marine Corps base in Da Nang. Burt Kearns and Jeff Abraham chronicle how the unthinkable happened: Someone got away with murder.

Cathy Wayne, a pretty teenage Australian pop star, made history on July 20, 1969. Fifty years ago, on the day Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 crew landed on the moon, Cathy Wayne became the first Australian woman to die in the Vietnam war. She was nineteen years old. A bullet killed her while performing on stage.

Born Catherine Anne Warnes in Arncliffe, an outer suburb of Sydney, she soon became Cathy Wayne. She made records and recorded advertising jingles. She toured around Australia with the Bandstand Family, and though she was under the legal age to enter the joints, performed in nightclubs.

SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE arrived at the United States Marine Corps’ 1st Reconnaissance Battalion base, four miles southeast of Da Nang, on July 20. That evening, they performed at a club for non-commissioned officers. This meant that the other enlisted men on the base — the grunts, the infantrymen — were not allowed to be among the 75 higher-ranked soldiers and staff members enchanted by the charms of sweetheart Cathy Wayne and the go-go girls.

Corporal Robert Stockham was one of the Marines who wasn’t invited. He remembered the night and the events that transpired in his barracks. There were several people in the hooch and we were in there talking and drinking beer. Sgt. Jim Killen came in. We referred to him as ‘Pappy’ because he was so old. He was twenty-eight years old and the rest of us were nineteen or twenty. He had heard that I had a .22 high-standard automatic with a silencer. This was the type of pistol that we’d taken out on patrols with us to do prisoner snatches. Pappy asked me if I still had the gun, said he wanted to use it. I asked him what he was gonna do with it. He told me that he was going to go down to the perimeter and shoot at some feral dogs that would hang out around there.”

Sgt. James Killen headed out with Cpl. Stockham’s gun and silencer. Not far away, the Sweethearts on Parade were giving the noncoms and staff members some good old Caucasian stimulation.

It was around 9:15 pm. Inside the officers’ club, Cathy Wayne, wearing a pink miniskirt, had finished a song and was introducing some of the other Sweethearts when she stopped short — and suddenly dropped like a marionette with severed strings.

“We were halfway through the show and I was playing the organ and all of a sudden she fell down!” Jimmy Taylor said. “And I thought she’s got an electric shock from the microphone, and I thought, ‘Hang on’ — and I knew then that she’d been shot. And, of course, I just fell to pieces. I wiped all the beer off the top of the organ — there were about twelve cans of beer that went everywhere — and I said, ‘My God!’ I just lost control.  There were no lights on. Everyone was running around screaming and it was just awful.”

Cathy Wayne had been shot in the chest. Blood spread across her breasts and seeped through her sexy costume. She died almost immediately because the bullet had severed her aorta. Clive Cavanagh, who’d climbed over his drum kit as soon as Cathy collapsed, now cradled his lover’s body in his arms, his tears splashing across her ashen face.

What made the scene even more chaotic was that nobody heard the shot. No one knew where the bullet came from.

WHO SHOT CATHY WAYNE?  An investigation revealed that the bullet was fired from behind a Jeep about 35 yards away from the club and had passed through the insect screen of an open window before entering the left side of Cathy Wayne’s body and exiting the right side. No one heard the shot, Marine Corps investigators explained, because the .22 caliber pistol that was fired outside was equipped with a silencer. So who did it? The finger pointed to Pappy, Sgt. James W. Killen of Winter Haven, Florida. He allegedly had been trying to kill his commanding officer, Major Roger E. Simmons, who was inside the club, watching the show from the front row.

Killing your superior during a time of war? Not so unusual, Cpl. Stockham admitted. “There were officers that were fragged in Vietnam. If you’re in combat and you blindly follow your leader and he’s incompetent, something’s got to give somewhere. Cathy Wayne was an innocent party who was voluntarily there to entertain the military.”

Marine Corps Sgt. James W. Killen was court-martialed later that year in Da Nang for the killing of Cathy Wayne. He insisted from the start that he didn’t do it and pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree premeditated murder. Two corporals, including Robert Stockham, testified that on the night Cathy Wayne was shot, Killen had entered “Hooch Six” demanding a weapon and ammunition. They said he found the pistol under a rubber air mattress. A sergeant testified that Killen entered his room and pulled up his shirt to show off a pistol in his belt. “Look at what I’ve got,” he supposedly said, pointing to the silencer.

All three witnesses said this occurred around 9:15 pm, the time Cathy Wayne was shot.

Killen, who’d been in Vietnam three years and had received a Purple Heart and the South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, testified in his own defense. He admitted taking the pistol from the hooch. He claimed that he went out to shoot the dogs that had been running into the barbed wire on the base’s perimeter, but didn’t see any. He said he returned to the Enlisted Men’s Club, where he drank eleven or twelve beers before leaving around 9:30.

Lance Corporal Ronald Prohaska testified, however, that Killen returned to the hooch while the search for a presumed enemy sniper was still ongoing. “Why in the hell did you do something like that for?” Prohaska said he asked. He said that Killen replied, “She was just winged.” When he asked about the gun, Prohaska said Killen told him it was “taken care of.” The weapon was later found in a ditch. There were no fingerprints, and no witnesses.

On October 29, an eight-man court-martial panel convicted James Killen of un-premeditated murder in the second degree. Sentencing took place the following day. The panel ordered that Killen receive a dishonorable discharge, busted to the rank of private, and forfeit all pay and allowances. Then they sentenced him to 20 years of hard labor.

Killen went to prison. A year and a half later, the Navy Court of Military Review looked at the case and found that the two corporals had altered their testimony after an offer of immunity from prosecution. Killen’s verdict and sentence were set aside. On August 4 and 5, a new trial took place at Camp Pendleton in southern California. This time, James Killen was cleared of all charges. He was released after serving two years and nine days in prison.

He told Shane Green of the Sydney Morning Herald: “Were they aiming at Cathy? Well, they may have been aiming in the general direction and pulled the trigger because that was the only real noise in the camp that night, a band playing, and that’s where the lights were.”

Cathy Wayne — Catherine Anne Warnes  — was one of three Australian women killed in Vietnam during the war. The other two, Lee Makk and Margaret Moses, were welfare workers who died in a plane crash in 1975.

Brandi Perry & The Bubble Machine

When Dorothy sang about going over the rainbow, she was imagining a place where there isn’t any trouble. Paula Sargent used to imagine that place too until she found it.

“For me, it’s here,” she told a class of high school students in Lake Balboa.

Born Paula-Sue Levine, Sargent has been teaching for roughly 30 years – more than half of them at Birmingham Community Charter High School. Even after retiring, she continued to substitute. 

Teaching, however, wasn’t always her goal. In the late 1960s, when she was barely older than the students she teaches now, Sargent was hired as the lead singer of a pop music group.  

“We were called Brandi Perry and the Bubble Machine,” she said, “They changed my name to Brandi.”

She and her bandmates, none of them older than 20, traveled overseas to entertain the troops in Vietnam. They were there for less than a month when their vehicle was attacked.

It was July 5, 1968, their truck left Saigon for Vung Tau near the end of the day and were halfway to their destination when they were ambushed from the side of the road by VC sympathizers. The attack caused the truck to run off the road and turn over in a ditch. The drummer and keyboard player Phil Willis + Kurt Pill, both only 17 years old, were killed, and the bassist and vocalist Jack Bone + Paula “Brandi Perry,” Levine were wounded.

SP4 David K.Hamilton U.S.Army was assigned to the HQ Company, 1St. Logistics Command volunteered to drive the pickup truck with the band and Brandi (Paula Levine) to a camp for a performance when they were ambushed by Viet Cong forces on Highway 15 in the middle of a combat zone, according to Miss Levine, Hamilton, a Malden MA. native was covered with wounds when he threw himself over the actress and ordered the rest of the troupe to “play dead”. Two band members died and two survived, the survivors credited SP4 Hamilton with their survival by listening to his commands to stay still and play dead so the enemy wouldn’t kill them. The actress Paula Levine flew from Hollywood to Malden MA to attend the funeral and bring Hamilton’s belongings that he entrusted to her before he died. Hamilton was 19 years old, his name is etched on the VietNam Memorial Wall along with over 58,000 of our brave American heroes.

Their vehicle was repeatedly fired upon and looted. “We couldn’t do anything,” she recalled.

They hid there waiting for help for hours. Army Sargent David Hamilton, who was escorting the group, was also shot and unconscious. He later died at a hospital in Japan.

“His name is on the wall,” she said, pulling a rubbing of his name from her scrapbook.

After that, Brandi went back to being Paula and 50 years later, she still sings. Sargent has a regular gig performing with her brother at Las Hadas in Northridge.  

But her best performance is still in the classroom. She is not just teaching kids about musicals, but about strength and survival. Even they ask her to sing and then surprise her with a show of appreciation when eventually she gave in. She says she gets the same joy from teaching that she does from singing.

“I love the people contact,” said Sargent. “Everybody is with you and you are with them. That’s what I love about it.”

So much so that after 30 years, it’s more than a career. It’s her home.

“And as Dorothy would say, and you know she’s going to say it,” she told the students, “there’s no place like home.”

The following entertainers performed for U.S. military personnel and their allies in the combat theatre during the Vietnam War (1959–1975). How many do you remember?

Information for this article was obtained from the following:

Clark County Conservative, Lew Waters:


From Burt Kearns & Jeff Abraham who wrote The Ballad of Cathy Wayne: Killed on Stage during the Vietnam War.



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