In the late 1960s, Karen Offutt was a teenager and considered herself very patriotic. She got chills whenever she heard “The Star-Spangled Banner.” At 18, she dropped out of nursing school and enlisted in the Army and was deployed to Vietnam.
“I felt real proud to have the uniform on,” Offutt, 68, told her 42-year-old daughter Kristin Glasgow at StoryCorps. “I was an executive stenographer. I had top secret ‘eyes only’ clearance. And a lot of times they would call me in the middle of the night to come in — if we were gonna do an airstrike on a certain village,” Offutt says.
But she also experienced degrading treatment as a woman in the Army. “I had to look ‘cutie,’ you know, with my hair and my lipstick or whatever — and serve tea,” she tells her daughter. “Whatever was needed to be done I did it. Including having to pose as a ‘Bunker Bunny.’ ” Offutt says she had to do what she was told, “or you didn’t last long in the service.”
As a woman, she also didn’t get the same recognition that a man would get for helping save lives. Karen Offutt was awarded a Certificate of Achievement for her heroic acts in Vietnam in 1970. It wasn’t until 2001 that she was awarded a Soldier’s Medal for Valor.
The citation for her medal records the event as follows: “Observing a fire in Vietnamese dwellings near her quarters, she hurried to the scene to provide assistance. Without regard for her personal safety and in great danger of serious injury or death from smoke, flames, and falling debris, she assisted in rescuing several adults and children from the burning structures. Without protective clothing or shoes she repeatedly entered the buildings to lead children that had reentered their homes to safety. She continued to assist the Vietnamese residents in removing personal property and livestock, although danger increased until fire-fighting equipment and personnel arrived.”
Offutt says she went to the Moving Wall, the traveling half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, in 1986. “I remember standing there, staring at those names because I knew some of those guys on the wall. This man came up and put his arm around me and he said, ‘Welcome home, sister.’ And I just started bawling because nobody had ever welcomed me home.”
We honor you, Karen Offutt.