She Served In Vietnam, But 'Nobody Had Ever Welcomed Me Home' Karen Offutt faced unique challenges as a woman in the Army during the Vietnam War. But "I felt real proud to have the uniform on," she tells her daughter Kristin Glasgow.
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She Served In Vietnam, But 'Nobody Had Ever Welcomed Me Home'

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She Served In Vietnam, But 'Nobody Had Ever Welcomed Me Home'

She Served In Vietnam, But 'Nobody Had Ever Welcomed Me Home'

She Served In Vietnam, But 'Nobody Had Ever Welcomed Me Home'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/563462171/563475824" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Kristin Glasgow and her mother Karen Offutt visited StoryCorps in Clovis, Calif. Courtesy of StoryCorps hide caption

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Courtesy of StoryCorps

Kristin Glasgow and her mother Karen Offutt visited StoryCorps in Clovis, Calif.

Courtesy of StoryCorps

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."

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. Courtesy of Karen Offutt hide caption

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Courtesy of Karen Offutt

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.

Courtesy of Karen Offutt

As a woman, she also didn't get the same recognition that a man would get for helping save lives.

One day, Offutt says, she smelled smoke in her hotel room where she lived. She saw the hamlet next door was on fire.

"I just ran down and started grabbing people and dragging them out," Offutt tells Glasgow. "The hamlet chief wanted me to have some kind of award and they put me in for the Soldier's Medal. But they said, 'We don't really give those to women and so we're going to give you a certificate of appreciation for heroic action.' And so that's what they did and I thanked them and I went back to work."

Glasgow says she doesn't remember her mother talking about being in service when she was growing up. "Why did you not talk about being in the Army for so long?" Glasgow asks her mother.

"That was your father," Offutt says. "He didn't allow me to talk about Vietnam, at all, so I just didn't talk about it until I left him 16 years later."

Later on, she found slides tucked away in their house.

"I remember just sitting there crying," Offutt says. "I think it was, when you have to put something away, and lock it inside of you for so long and you're not allowed to speak of it, I just felt lost."

StoryCorps' Great Thanksgiving Listen

This Thanksgiving, StoryCorps invites everyone to take part in The Great Listen, a national movement that empowers young people — and people of all ages — to create an oral history of the contemporary United States by recording an interview with an elder using the free StoryCorps App. Interviews become part of the StoryCorps Archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Get the StoryCorps App, and make your plans to record with resources at thegreatlisten.org.

Glasgow asks her mother if there's anything that's helped her through the challenging times.

"I think talking to veterans," Offutt says.

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."

Audio was produced for Weekend Edition by Kerrie Hillman, John White and Sarah Lilley.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.