Ever since Dava Ansell became a pregnant widow at age 17 in 1968, she has looked with trepidation and a sad curiosity for someone who knew her husband, John Ansell Jr. He died two weeks after his 19th birthday, after volunteering for a dangerous reconnaissance mission in Vietnam's Ashau Valley. Their son, John III, was born three months after his father's funeral.

Through a new, free computerized service, the In Touch program run by the Friends of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Dava Ansell, now 39, a Maryland administrative assistant, has learned much about her husband's military experiences.

In Touch connects Vietnam veterans who want to share their military memories with relatives and friends of the 58,175 dead and missing in action. The nonprofit organization, which is run by volunteers, has made 12 matches since its inception in June, and has 1,000 applications on file. It relies on private donations for its operation.

Ansell recently talked face-to-face with a veteran who shared harrowing times with her husband in Vietnam. They alternately laughed and wept.

"I heard stuff I wanted to hear but it's hard to digest," Ansell says.

Having learned of the 50th reunion of the 101st Airborne Division Association, Ansell last July nervously called to find out if anyone there had served with her husband, an assistant machine gunner in A Company, 327th Infantry, 1st Brigade of the 101st.

"Come and meet us," a veteran encouraged her. "I don't know if I can {handle it}," she responded. Silence. Then he answered, "We're all just as scared as you."

After summoning the courage, Ansell went to the reunion, where she found the vet with whom she had spoken. He grabbed her arm, saying, "Come on. We found someone for you to talk to," and took her to George Murphy, who had been told a woman by the name of "Atkins" was looking for him. Murphy, 43, is a New York City police detective with the bomb detection squad.

Awash with conflicting emotions, she introduced herself.

"Now I realize who you are," Murphy said. "John was my best friend over there. Did he ever write about me?"

That night Ansell reread her husband's letters. On 12 slips of small, unlined notepaper dated March 1, 1968, he wrote, "Things are bad over here, much more than we ever suspected ... Yesterday I was the third man in line when we got ambushed. The man behind me got hit and later on the man in front of me got hit. ... A guy, Murphy, just brought me a can of food. I lost everything in the ambush yesterday. Everything that was in my rucksack anyway." He ended the letter suggesting that she and Murphy's girlfriend in Brooklyn should meet because they'd probably like each other.

Ansell showed the letter and some pictures of her husband in Vietnam to Murphy, who remembered the rucksack incident.

Drawing forth war memories and sharing them with Ansell was as emotional for Murphy as it was for her. "After that weekend, I went into a severe depression," he says. "I couldn't sleep at night."

Murphy answered as fully as he could all of Ansell's questions. "Dava told me it was the first time in 22 years she felt at home with people."

After meeting Murphy, Dava Ansell felt "I was no longer alone. The Vietnam veterans understand my nightmare. They have theirs but ours are linked."

When he was growing up, young Ansell, now 22, a third-year student at Montgomery College, asked his mother about his father but "I could never talk about it for more than five minutes without her crying. I couldn't get real answers from her.

"I wanted to meet George Murphy to find out if my father was funny or an oddball, what he was like with his friends, was he a good soldier, and if I were his friend in war could I have trusted him. George said I could." For two hours they talked over beers.

Cammie Geoghegan, a graduate of George Mason and James Madison universities and now a compensation analyst at First American Bankshares in the District, was 5 months old when her father died. Second Lt. John L. Geoghegan was killed in the Ia Drang Valley, Nov. 15, 1965, at age 24, while trying to save Pfc. Willie F. Godboldt's life. They were with the Army's 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).

"I know bits and pieces about my father, because my mother was willing to share memories of him, even though it was painful for her," Geoghegan says. "It's too emotional for me to look into the trunk filled with lots of his medals, letters he wrote my Mom and the flag the Army gave her at his funeral."

His widow, Barbara Johns, now remarried and living in Annandale, says Geoghegan volunteered his platoon of 45 men to rebuild an orphanage destroyed in the war. "His mission in life was contrary to war. He died the way he lived, trying to help others," she says."Who was the first to go to him?" she wants to ask a veteran. "I want to know what work he was doing at the orphanage and what he said about his parents, his wife and daughter."

There are no relatives for Jennifer Amos, majoring in international affairs at George Washington University, to talk to about her father, Albert Roldolphus Amos Jr., a major with the 25th Army Infantry Division.

"Is there anybody who worked with my father who knew what he did in Vietnam? When and why did he get addicted to drugs and alcohol, which led to his death" at 35 in Fort Monroe, Va., in 1978. "I'm at a dead end so that's the reason I'm so excited about the In Touch program," she says.

Diane Brown, a sophomore at Montgomery College, wants information about her father, Wendell ("Lee") Brown, a Chinese translator who died April 29, 1970, at age 27 in a plane crash. A captain, he was with the Air Force's 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron, 125th Signal Battalion, 25th Infantry Division.

Veterans themselves also have signed up with In Touch, so they may contact families of friends they made while in Vietnam.

Jack Clark, a screenwriter, is looking for the family of his friend, Chief Warrant Officer Don Saegaert, a helicopter pilot whose aircraft was hit by enemy fire. He died in Dong Xoai on June 10, 1965. His body was never recovered."You put feelings with an event and put them on a hook that says, 'The Past' but you know where they are," Clark says.

George McAleer, a professor with the National War College at Fort McNair, would like to make contact with the family of Edwin Osborne Jr. "I'd love to talk to Ed's four daughters. I'd tell them what happened in Vietnam to a guy pretty much like their Dad."

McAleer and Osborne were in the same bomb squadron at Pease Air Force Base, Portsmouth, N.H., from 1960-1965, flying B-47s. After an eight-hour mission, "a near-death experience bonded us. Landing at Pease a wind gust at 100 feet picked up the left wing. Thank God, Ed hit the six throttles for a go-around or the right wing would have hit the ground and we would have cartwheeled."

For 2 1/2 years they didn't see each other until they met in DaNang one morning and breakfasted before flying their missions. Six weeks later, on Dec. 29, 1967, Osborne was listed MIA while flying a classified low-altitude mission over North Vietnam.

"He was the most compassionate man I've ever met, Mr. Cool from Backcountry Virginia," McAleer remembers.

For information: In Touch, Friends of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, 1224 M St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005, or 202-628-0726.