Maybe medals for bravery should be awarded sometime after a war, not only to soldiers who ran up hot battlefield records, but to those who later rescue themselves from the ghosts of memory. Perhaps they're real heroes, too.

So it is with lack Dunne, the ex-Vietnam grunt magnificently, portrayed by actor Henry Winkler in "Heroes," the first of a battalion of anticipated anti-war films on the horizon.

The Universal film, which opens Friday at local theaters, is a poignant, happy sad tale of one quietly tormented vet's postwar bus trip from New York City to Eureka. Calif., where he hopes to set up a worm farm with a grubstake from his disabled VA hospital buddies. On the bus he meets Carol Bell (Sally Field), on board solely to ponder an imminent marriage, she helps pull Dunne from the trenches.

It is a beautiful, moving tale, a love story even, sad without being schmaltzy, full of funny, knee-slapping moments and sufficiently thrill-packed without the usual padding of cheap thrills.

In "Heroes," Winkler so eclipses the thumbs-up, super-cool stereotype of Arthur Fonzarelli, it's easy to forget you're watching the Foz. Another would be hero is Ken Boyd (Harrison Ford), Dunne's troubled hillbilly war pal who relies on a 450-cubic-inch security blanket - his orange-and-red Camaro, christened "Canned Heat" - to prop up his fragile ego and drive away his ghosts. Ford, who flew Luke Skywalker out of a jam in "Star Wars" as space pilot Han Sole, hands Dunne the keys to "Canned Heat" when he runs out of traveling money.

You may recognize Sally Field from her TV roles ("Gidget," "The Flying Nun," the disturbed young woman in "Sybil") and from her part in "Stay Hungry," where she played a health-spa receptionist opposite Jeff Bridges. But in "Heroes," her character evolves choppily and suffers from the inadequate development of her conflict over whether to return home in time for her impending marriage.

Yet despite the dramatic imbalance, and the need for some fine-tuning in an otherwise sensitive script. "Heroes," directed by Jeremy Paul Kagan, remains a stunning film.