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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Today's Veterans Day. And now we'll listen to the Military Voices Initiative from StoryCorps, interviews between veterans and their loved ones.
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SIMON: In the late 1960s, Karen Offutt was a teenager. She was very patriotic, got chills whenever she heard "The Star-Spangled Banner." At 18, she dropped out of nursing school to enlist in the Army and was deployed to Vietnam. She spoke with her daughter Kristin.
KRISTIN GLASGOW: Can you tell me what it was like being a woman in the Army during that time?
KAREN OFFUTT: I felt real proud to have the uniform on. I was an executive stenographer. I had top-secret-eyes-only clearance. A lot of times, they would call me in the middle of the night to come in if we were going to do an air strike on a certain village. And in addition to that, I had to look cutie, you know, with my hair and my lipstick or whatever and serve tea. And whatever was needed to be done, I did it, you know, including having to pose as a bunker bunny, which was humiliating. But you do what you were told, or you didn't last long in the service.
GLASGOW: Can you take me through the day of the fire and what happened?
OFFUTT: We lived in an old hotel. Next to us, there was a hamlet. And it housed a lot of people. Well, I was in my room, and I smelled smoke really badly. And I saw the hamlet was on fire. And so I just ran down and started grabbing people and dragging them out. 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 the certificate of appreciation for heroic action. And so that's what they did. And I thanked them, and I went back to work.
GLASGOW: Growing up, I don't remember you talking about being in service. Why did you not talk about being in the Army for so long?
OFFUTT: That was your father. 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. And I had found a bunch of slides that were, I think, in the attic at our house. And I remember just sitting there, crying. I think it was, you know, 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.
GLASGOW: What has helped you the most through all of this?
OFFUTT: I think talking to veterans. I went to the Moving Wall. And that was in 1986. And 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.
SIMON: Karen Offutt and her daughter Kristen Glasgow in Clovis, Calif. Karen was eventually awarded the Soldier's Medal in 2001. Their conversation will be archived at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress. And you can hear more stories from veterans on the StoryCorps podcast.
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