On Thursday, CBS premieres the most talked-about series on the fall schedule, "Tour of Duty."

"For some veterans," said Mary Stout, who was an Army nurse in Vietnam, "it will be the first time they will be connecting with the war. This is going to be in people's homes, with their families, and it will raise questions with their children and their spouses. It will open up opportunities for the veterans to talk about their experiences."

Stout, 43, served in 1967 -- "a year to the day" -- in Chu Lai, the same location, as it turns out, in which "Tour of Duty" is set. At the end of July, she was elected the first female president of the 35,000-member Vietnam Veterans of America, and is the first woman to head a national veterans service organization.

"We screened 'Tour of Duty' -- the pilot -- at our national convention," said Stout. "Most of the people that I talked to were very positive about the realism. There are always some small discrepancies of equipment -- someone will say, 'I didn't see that there.' And there are certain restrictions on any program in prime-time television. But there were very few {complaints}, when you take over 600 people, who had difficulty personally."

Still, Stout knows that some might find the memories overpowering. "It's very important that if people need special help ... that they know that there are VVA chapters available." Of the organization's 350 chapters, three are in the Washington area: near the Marine Barracks on Eighth Street; in Silver Spring, Md., and in Springfield, Va.

"I've heard some critics say, 'Isn't this too violent?' That's part of what war is . ..

It's violent and you lose people that you care about. Some veterans have not had time to grieve for those they lost."

Although Stout hopes that a depiction of a nurse will be added this year to the statue of three male soldiers at the Vietnam Memorial on the Mall, she is unconcerned that American women are not much a part of "Tour of Duty."

"We think that it is a fairly accurate representation. It would be very unusual for those soldiers to see an American woman unless they were wounded or at a stable base camp where there were Red Cross workers. That's acceptable. We certainly hope that there will be some reference to the nurses. But this program is going to focus on the field unit, and that is certainly accurate.

"The thing that I feel most proud about is that the actor who plays Doc, the medic {Steve Akahoshi, as Randy (Doc) Matsuda)}, has contacted us because he wants to be as accurate as possible. Terence Knox {who plays Sgt. Zeke Anderson} sent us some of the scripts for future programming so we can see if the dialogue seems accurate and the scripts seem accurate. They are committed and concerned.

"Of course, everyone's war is their own personal war and everyone's experience is their own perception. Not everyone is going to say that this is their experience, but the universalities will come through."

For Stout, her year in Chu Lai was her last as a nurse and her last in the Army. She had volunteered for duty there partly because a young officer named Carl Stout was to be ordered to Vietnam with the Third Brigade Task Force of the 25th Division. She went to Vietnam in November 1966; he left the following month. Carl Stout said he carried her engagement ring wrapped in tissue paper and tucked into a sock as he crisscrossed Vietnam with the infantry until they saw each other again on April 1, 1967.

In November 1967, when her tour of duty was over, Mary resigned from the Army and went back to her home town, Columbus, Ohio, to plan for their December wedding. The Stouts left almost immediately for his new assignment at Fort MacArthur, Calif.

Thirteen years later, Mary Stout returned to Columbus with their three daughters while Carl Stout served in Korea. She joined the Columbus chapter of VVA and a year later was named executive director of the Ohio council.

In 1983, when the Army moved the Stouts to the Washington area, Mary Stout became national membership director of VVA, and in 1985 was elected national secretary. Carl Stout was a member of VVA's board of directors. In 1986, he retired from the Army and became the organization's executive director, a job he resigned when Mary decided to run for president.

At the end of July, Mary Stout was elected president of Vietnam Veterans of America at the organization's national convention in California and has been making appearances and speeches for VVA ever since. The first week in September she returned to the Washington headquarters and reflected: "I've been in office one month and one day, and I've been in the office a total of six days, including two Saturdays."

Her husband says she's "very respected" -- and just getting started.