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News ::
Karen Ofutt, - Retrospect of a Woman (english)
18 Mar 2003
Modified: 08:42:51 PM
We are here today to pay homage to those names written on the Wall - the men and women who lost their lives in Vietnam
I remember the first time I saw the
Moving Wall in California, 1986. My brother took me and I walked over to it by myself. This feeling welled up inside of me and I felt like I was going to fall down or
combust. It was overwhelming to me to see so many names, so many lives lost. I felt an arm around my shoulders and a man I didn't know said "Welcome Home,
Sister." I crashed and burned. My whole body shook. That was the first "welcome home" I had ever received. It meant everything to me.

I hate being in public and would rather never leave my house. I am asked occasionally to share my experiences with high school kids, authors, newspapers and events
like this. I don't like to do it. I make myself do it because I think it's necessary for people to know that women were there and that we have suffered. We are a
dying breed and soon there will be none of us to tell our stories. Our names won't ever be placed on the Wall in DC. We may still be living, but we are not all alive.

About 10,000 women served in Vietnam and most of those were nurses. Those women who served to patch the wounded deserve our utmost respect! Still, unknown
to most, there were civilian women who went to Vietnam in varying capacities.....Red Cross or Donut Dollies, as they were affectionately called, Special Services,
entertainers and yes, even enlisted women. Only about 500 enlisted women from the Army volunteered to go to Vietnam. I was one of them. At 19 years old, I first
was stationed in Long Binh and later in Saigon. I was the youngest woman and the lowest ranking WAC in Saigon.

We see all these names on the Wall but so many DON'T see the Invisible Wall that is all around us. The Invisible Wall is not in one piece. It is comprised of
thousands of us who are the Walking Wounded, our lives changed forever by that War....and I refuse to call it a "conflict". A conflict is two children fighting over
which tv show to watch. This was a WAR and the men and women who went were never to be the same again. The pieces to the Invisible Wall are buried from
cancers, caused by Agent Orange....from taking their own lives because the pain and memories inside their heads were just too much to bear. They are the people
you see, but don't see....walking amongst you, yet never connecting with anyone. They might be next to you in the supermarket, late at night....or driving beside you
on the road, holding back their rage, sitting next to you in church, working beside you at your jobs. They are the folks living out to themselves, isolated and
alone...thinking that no one understands them.

At 19, I had no clue where Vietnam was. I knew that Jane Fonda and others were protesting the war and I wanted to go see for myself. I wanted to give my life for
my country to stop the spread of communism. I wanted to take the place of a man who would be killed. I saw no reason that only the men should die over there.
Was I idealistic? You bet. My first night in country we were hit all night with incoming. I thought that I would die right then and I didn't even really know where I
was. I was petrified. Guns everywhere, barbed wired no matter where you looked, red mud...it felt like Hell. When I went to work for Military Assistance
Command, Vietnam, in Saigon, it was even worse. I was afraid of everyone. Claymores were planted, jeeps blew up, helicopters crashed, mortars and rockets
coming in and snipers came out of nowhere. Where I lived, we had no bunker. As women in Saigon, we were on our own. No one checked on us to see if we made
it home at night. We worked 12 - 15 hours a day in various jobs, each one going their own way early in the mornings and returning at different hours at night. I was
often called in to work in the middle of the night when we were going to do an air strike. We walked, hitched rides and flew in choppers to our destinations. We
didn't talk about our fears nor did we write about them to our families. We put smiles on our faces to give There is my unborn child that I had aborted because I was
told he or she would have similar or worse problems than my other children. I was against abortion and yet I could not stand to see another child of mine suffer for
what I had caused....for what our government did to us. How do I forget that death? our brothers a piece of back home.


I lived next to 3rd Field Hospital on Vo Tahn Street. Helicopters flew in ALL day and night. The sound of the rotors never stopped, it seemed , as they brought the
dying and wounded into 3rd Field. I remember standing in the middle of a huge hospital bay there when I went to visit an injured friend. All of these young men, lying
there without legs, arms, faces. I felt the most helpless I had ever felt in my life. It is one of my reoccurring nightmares that have haunted me all these years.

I worked 6 1/2 days a week at MACV and on my half day off, I would often go volunteer at an orphanage in Saigon. Many of us did, I think, because the suffering of
innocent children from the war was something you just couldn't shake. My little guys had shrapnel wounds, lost limbs and the look of no hope in their eyes. I wanted
to bring them all home and take care of them forever, protect them. But I was 19 and I couldn't even protect myself from being a victim of the war.

We women came home. Some of us married and had children. We lost contact with one another and the government told us they "didn't keep names of the women
who went to Vietnam". DIDN'T KEEP OUR NAMES?!!!!! We were totally expendible....didn't count for anything!

The civilian population came home to NO help and STILL have no help. They can't even go to a Vet Center for therapy or the VA Hospital for medical care, but
they served our country, nonetheless. They suffer from all the things that do any of us who served in Vietnam. Truly invisible!

I've talked to people who served who said they didn't even know what PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress is. They'll just say, no.....they don't have it. They don't have or
can't keep a relationship, drive with road rage locked inside of them, don't sleep at night, have anger and sadness for reasons they don't know, sleep with weapons, self
medicate, hate loud noises, move a lot, can't keep a job, have no permanence in their lives.....but deny they have PTSD. I hate it when I see someone standing in the
street with a "Help a Homeless Vietnam Vet" sign. I doubt that very many of those ever saw Vietnam. We are not people who would be out there begging for
money. We are a proud group, long suffering and used to standing alone.

Let me tell you about some more names on the Invisible Wall. There is Justin, one of my twin boys born in 1971, with cancer of the kidney. Watching a 15 month old
child being cut open to have his kidney removed and going through chemotherapy for two years, seeing his veins collapse and having to have cut downs so he could
continue with his therapy......was more of a hell than I had already lived in Vietnam. There is Kevin, the other twin, born with ADHD, Attention Deficit,
Hyperactivity Disorder, bone deformities, teeth erupting from the center of the roof of his mouth. There is Kristin, my daughter, born in 1974, who shortly after a
year old began to have Grand Mal Seizures. There is my unborn child that I had aborted because I was told he or she would have similar or worse problems than my
other children. I was against abortion and yet I could not stand to see another child of mine suffer for what I had caused....for what our government did to us. How
do I forget that death? And now there is Megan, my granddaughter, who has ADHD and seizures as well. I've been told that the Agent Orange I passed to my
children will exist for AT LEAST SEVEN generations! What a legacy. And there is Ryan, my 6 month old grandson......I watch and I wait and I pray. Those are
still more pieces to the Invisible Wall. And yes, there are many more just like them all around you.

Because women are born with all their reproductive eggs that they will ever have, those exposed to Agent Orange were bound to have children with serious
problems. Those of us who nursed our babies, as we thought we were doing the best possible for them, only gave them more toxins. The guilt, the frustration, and
anger I feel is tremendous.

More names for the Invisible Wall? How about the wives and husbands who have had to pull the load in the relationships because we could not? Those loyal families
who have had to watch their loved ones become ill from Agent Orange and die slowly or sometimes quickly, without ever having lived out their lives. Those of you
who have stood by the man or woman Vietnam Veteran are to be applauded and respected. That includes our children, for they have truly suffered. Those who have
lost their Moms and Dads to suicide because they were too ill, too tired, too haunted to go on.......Those who didn't live the good lifestyle because they were missing a
parent or because that parent couldn't work.

I am told from time to time to FORGET the war....quit living in the past....get on with your life. HOW??? I've had over 17 polyps removed from inside my colon, two
breast lumpectomies, cancer, have been depressed to the point of sitting with a gun in my mouth. Most vets I know have cysts that appear all over their
bodies...painful and large. You can't lie down and you can't sit. And as I said, I am only ONE of the many.

I'm a Registered Nurse and worked for many years. How I did that I will never know. I really had nothing left inside to give. I had to support my children and it
didn't matter what demons were inside my head, the fact that I only slept a few hours a night, that I hated going outside in the real world. I did what I had to do. The
fact that I could go from SWEET to ANGRY in a matter of seconds was awful. I had agoraphobia and couldn't leave my house at one point in my life. The panic
attacks were so bad, I couldn't breathe. I had to low crawl to answer the phone. I had been an outgoing person before Vietnam.....songleader, ASB Vice President,
in a marching and jazz band, ran track and was the life of the party. Now I couldn't go to the market to get groceries without running to the car, abandoning my
shopping basket, and fleeing to lie down in my car seat. My husband was abusive to me and to my children. I wasn't allowed to talk about Vietnam. He blamed me
for their illnesses and for volunteering. I swallowed it down and tried to be a better wife and mother. The house was spotless and my children were loved. They
were loved when I yelled at them too and when I whipped them. I would cry and feel worthless, not knowing what the hell was wrong with me. I was diagnosed as
having an anxiety disorder. I finally left my husband when I decided that I was going to blow his abusive head off while he slept.

About 4 years later, I married a man I met through the Vietnam Veterans of America. While I worked as a nurse, he slept in because he had kept me up all night
telling me about his Vietnam nightmares and experiences.....He had the Bronze Star and Silver Star....had his DD214. I spent all my time consoling him only to find
out later that he had never been in Vietnam. He had bought the ribbons, bought the pictures and typed in Vietnam on his DD214. I already didn't trust anyone who
wasn't a vet and now I couldn't trust those who said they were! Now, when I ask someone where they were over there and they say "all over" or that they were a
"Seal" or "LRRP", I say PROVE IT! I've even met women wannabes who said they served in Nam.

Who in the hell would WANT to be a Vietnam Vet....to live with this pain and guilt and medical problems? Who would want to watch their children suffer and even
die because of their service in that war?

I tell you these very personal things about myself to help you understand about the women Veterans and by that I mean ALL the women who went to Vietnam. I
struggled for years until I couldn't do it anymore. I made poor decisions that affected my life greatly. My children have PTSD because they lived with a mother who
tried to be normal but wasn't. When I got off the plane after 11 months in Nam, it was business as usual. No one asked me about Vietnam and I didn't tell. I had just
left a country where just getting to live another day was what it was all about. Now I'm back in America where women worried about their nails and hair, what kind
of car to drive and all the BS trivial stuff that didn't matter a damn to me. I've been called a Lesbian, a whore, you name it....all because of my service. Stereotyped
and laughed at. Been told I had clean sheets over there, so I had it made! Well, we didn't have it made and we still don't.

Coming to FL was the best thing that could have happened to me. I met a counselor, Dr. Maria Crane, who was a God send. I was falling apart but I wouldn't see
her at first because she wasn't a vet and I didn't think she could understand. I was so wrong! She has been there every step of the way for over two years. I met
Shirley Ross with the PVA and Bill Klinger who helped me with the start of my PTSD claim. I met Ed Quill and Kevin ODonnel who helped me continue my claim.
Those people changed my life. They made me feel that my service in Vietnam was validated. Ed and Kevin are with the Mobile Unit of Volunteers of America that
provides health and dental care, amongst other things, to homeless Vietnam Vets throughout Florida. They could use some financial help so next time you think about
donating, please do so to this very worthwhile cause!

Being on the internet was another blessing in my life because I found women who were in Vietnam, who knew me, who could help me remember things and who
understood. I met men like Joe Oliver and Mike Castle and brothers from all over Florida and the United States who have stood up for me and stood by me.
Blessings.

We are the names on the Invisible Wall, people. We need to help each other and reach out to our Vietnam Veteran sisters and brothers. The days are wasting and
time is of the essence. Those of you out there pretending to be Vietnam Veterans....walk a mile in our shoes before you pin those ribbons on your chests. Those of
you who did serve, there is help out there. Vet Centers and the VA Hospital are there for us. If you don't get the treatment you deserve, raise hell, write letters.
Don't settle for being treated as second class citizens, because you AREN'T! You are top notch, A-1 soldiers, women and men who gave your all for your country.
If the country chooses to forget about us, don't let them! Stop being invisible and let your voices be heard because when we die, our children and their offspring will
continue to suffer and die because of what was done to us in Vietnam.
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Comments

I see some disparity (english)
18 Mar 2003
Dependent children of 100% disabled veterans receive a mere $65.00 per month
to live on..can you raise your children on $65.00 per month..A dependent
parent gets $95.00 per month while a spouse gets only a little more...If the
VA figures it takes about $2000.00 per month for a !00% veteran to live alone
as a single person, then why do they think a child of a veteran needs only
$65.00 per month to live on..Do I see some disparity here..shouldn't it be
$650.00 per month per child..this is more in line with today's economical
climate..my one child alone burns $65.00 in electricity and I won't mention
clothes, food and other basic needs...I would ask all supporters of Veterans
Rights and Issues to contact their representatives to sponsor a bill to give
a realistic increase to these numbers..Let's get this on the floor for next
years budget...many thanks to all those who go the extra mile to help all
those who are unable to walk...Robert Estess