Vietnam Woman Veteran
Receives Soldier's Medal

by Noonie Fortin - © 2001


Karen in Vietnam
Karen Offutt in Vietnam
Photo courtesy of Karen Offutt


7 April 2001: Karen Offutt was presented The Soldier's Medal today at a ceremony in Edward Medard Park east of Tampa. She was taken totally by surprise.

She was one of the scheduled speakers at the Women's Museum Tent. She showed up in the morning-thankfully-and listened to the morning speakers. Following a break for other park activities Karen was the first to speak during the afternoon session.

She gave a marvelous rundown of her activities both in and out of Vietnam. And included her health problems as well as those of her children and grandchildren.

When Karen finished speaking, Linda "Scooter" Watson approached her with a little dog tag pin and certificate of appreciation for being there today. BUT Scooter said, "I'm sorry Karen I made a mistake on your certificate spelling your name" and ripped it up. Karen was flabbergasted - then Scooter yelled out "Color Guard."

Next thing to happen was a color guard from the DAV appeared out of nowhere - and Karen is still standing there looking like Scooter was crazy. To say the least the next thing that happened was a young JrROTC cadet came forward with a board of photos for Karen. Still she didn't realize what was happening.

When Shirley from Congressman Bilirakis' office walked towards her--she finally noticed something was amiss. She broke into tears-as did most of the people in attendence. Scooter introduced Shirley to the audience and then Shirley turned to Karen.

Shirley commented about what Karen had done in Vietnam to save several Vietnamese families from a fire in their building - never thinking of her own safety. How the hamlet chieftain wrote documents after talking to all the witnesses and those who were saved. He presented his documents to the US Army.

A request for The Soldier's Medal was submitted through channels but denied. Reason being was that she was a woman and women didn't get awards for heroism. The request was downgraded to a Certificate of Achievement. That was in January 1970.

Shirley reiterated all of this to the audience. Then she read the citation for the award of The Soldier's Medal. AND handed the Medal to Karen.

The citation reads:

Soldier's Medal

Soldier's Medal courtesy of Karen Offutt

Karen I. Offutt

(Then) Specialist Five, United States Army For heroism not involving actual conflict with an armed enemy: Specialist Karen I Offutt, Women's Army Corps, United States Army, assigned to Headquarters Military Assistance Command Vietnam, J47, distinguished herself by heroic action on 24 January 1970 while in an off-duty status.

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. Specialist Five Offutt's heroic action reflects great credit on herself, the United States Army, and the United States mission in Vietnam.

Karen had absolutely no idea this was going to happen. She never noticed the TV cameras in the crowd. She was completely surprised. AND when it was pointed out that one of the men (Mike Castle) who worked so hard to get her the medal was part of the color guard she really lost it. He and his wife flew in from Minnesota just for the day. She began looking immediately for Joe Oliver who was also working to this end but sadly he couldn't get to Tampa.

Some of us women and a few men knew this was going to happen today. We told a few folks but asked that they not tell Karen. Thank you for that. She absolutely had no idea.

Even following the afternoon speakers program, Karen said I just can't believe this happened. She wanted to know how we kept it from her. It was hard. We nearly slipped several times but we did pull it off.

I'm sure when she gets home many of her friends will hear from her. I spent time with her afterward and just kept saying I can't believe this really happened. She didn't think for one minute that the medal would be awarded to her for something that happened so long ago.

Karen has been seen on television in several interviews. She has been written about in several books already. She is also in my next one (Women At Risk: We Also Served) and now I have an even better ending for the chapter I wrote about her. She has felt that it has become her mission to tell others that they need to pass on their history and health background to others to help them all understand about the problems our Vietnam Veterans are having. AND it's not just the male Veterans.

I was proud to be a part of today's presentation. No I didn't really take part in it but I was the first to be told by Joe Oliver that this was to happen today. I had to make arrangements with Scooter to get everything in place for the presentation to happen today. She did a good job of it too on such short notice.

Mike Castle and his wife were flown in from Minnesota to take part. They had never met Karen before but had worked along with Joe Oliver to right a wrong. These two men need to be congratulated as well. You did good guys!

More of the events of this week and weekend will be found in The Sarge section of Military Network.


Copyright 2001 by Noonie Fortin. All rights reserved



Posted with expressed permission from Noonie Fortin
by The Northwest Veterans Newsletter - Pam Young

Congratulations, Karen!


Pam & Roger Young

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