The faces stare out from the photos and haunt you - the boysih smile of a 17-year-old, the piercing gaze of a father of two, the former Eagle Scout, the Silver Star winner. Young men with wives, mothers, lovers, who went to Vietnam - and died there.
Now the families are measuring their young men's lives and their deaths, evaluating those deaths against Jimmy Carter's impending blanket pardon of Vietnam-era draft evaders.
As with so much of the Vietnamese war, there is division among the survivors, much like the division over the war in the country as a whole. That division is reflected in interviews with 13 Washington-area relatives of Vietnam war victims.
For some opposing a pardon, there is a feeling of being cheated out of time spent with a loved one; for others it is a question of a nation's ability to field an army for future wars. For those agreeable to amnesty, time has healed their wounds.
Regina Wilk, of Silver Spring, vice president of Gold Star Mothers, an organization of women who have lost sons in combat (her son was killed in 1967): "These deserters took off and broke the law. Their mothers, they can visit their sons in Canada. If we want to see our sons, all we can visit is the grave."
"Oh, how long can you go with this? I did feel strongly against a pardon at first, but Carter is trying to start anew, to get the people together." That comes from Theresa Cavanaugh of Fairfax, widow of an Army colonel killed in 1971.
"We must stop and think about what President-elect Carter is trying to do," said Mrs. Cavanaugh. "The parents who have loved ones in Canada - it is a heartbreak for them to go through. In the beginning I couldn'y help but feel one way about it. But then I think about the others and . . . you can change your mind."
But others haven't, like Helen Frazelle of Mount Vernon, whose son was killed in 1971. "Let them stay where they are. They'll never be any good to you here. They didn't take it (the conditional amnesty program offered by President Ford) so it shows they don't want to have anything to do with this country.I' bitterly opposed to it."
Conditional amnesty required "alternative service" in return for dropping criminal charges against draft evaders.
"Everyone is different, each family approaches this in a different way," observed Corrie Hayward, 31, of Chevy Chase. Her husband John, a career Army officer, was killed in 1968. She is chapter and regional president of the Gold Star Wives, widows of men killed in combat, and says, "Some of the women are very opposed to (amnesty) in the group. But what does it matter at this point? Enough time has passed."
Others do not feel enough time has passed that enough time may never pass. "Regardless of the way the war turned out, when they left the country, they were breaking the law," said Theresa Cavanaugh's 18-year-old daughter, Sheila, a college freshman.
She and her four sisters feel that a conditional amnesty is better than a blank pardon, that some restitution to society is demanded. "They should do something to redeem themselves," she said.
"Conditional amnesty amounts to a slap on the wrist," says Helen Frazelle, who lost her 24-year-old son, Don. "Don't knew what he was doing when he joined up. He volunteered for that Vietnam tour. He intended to be a career officer and knew he would have to go over sooner or later.
"He was to have come home the day before he was injured. But he wanted to bring all of his boys back (he was a platoon leader) and they wanted to make one more sweep. I sometimes think that if one of those boys who went to Canada had only gone in . . . my son may not have been the one. He might be here."
Mrs. Frazelle tried to remain calm. Photographs of her grandchildren sit on the stereo phonograph beside her. Her husband, Jerome, moves uncomfortably in aneasy chair, plagued by the arthritic pain that has left him permanently disabled after 28 years in the Air Force.
He is conscious of his wife's emotional mood, and forcibly returns to the question of a pardon. "Carter is setting the highest precedent. If he pardons them, there's no reason that they can't do the same thing and get away with it. They'll just say, 'No, we won't go.'"
Another of Regina Wilk's sons, Eric, an ex-Marine wounded at Khesanh, thinks the discipline problem within the ranks of the military would increase.
"In a combat situation, you've got to go. You start giving these amnesties to people and people won't go. You've got to have something to fight with - God, country, and a little threat behind you."
Few families express their opposition to amnesty from emotion, at least outwardly. The pictures and medals are put away, and logical, rational reasons for opposing amnesty are espoused. Yet the emotion is there. Donald Frazelle's widow, Carol, voiced her opposition to amnesty by discussing national defense and the Ford proposal. Then she began to talk about her life without a husband.
"The children are aware of the fact their father was killled in Vietnam. There was a Vietnamese child in school with my daughter for a while and she was very excited about it. But I was really resentful of it, I wanted to tell my daughter, don't you know that's the country and the people who killed your father?
"Of course I didn't say that," she continues. "I don't want my prejudices to follow them. But it has left some scars. It's hard to raise a child by yourself, and I've got two. You have all the daily problems and they you turn around and see they will let them (evaders) come back.
Mrs. Wilk had three sons who fought in Vietnam. The first William, was killed in the summer of 1967. He was 23, Eric was wounded at Khesanh three months before that. Christopher returned home safely.
"My sons left in defense of their country. My son William said he's going to fight so his son can live in a freeland. My grandson was born two weeks before my son was killed. He has no memory of him, he'll never see him. It doesn't seem right."
Eric Wilk is now a driver for a delivery service in Maryland. He is "not too thrilled about amnesty. I lost a couple of friends over there, an arm and a brother."
Amnesty and pardon. Deserters and evaders. The words are used interchangeably, the distinctions Carter has placed on them lost to the families who lost relatives.
But not for Pat Simon, head of the Gold Star Parents for Amnesty. She is aware of their clear legal delineation and is against the Carter proposal as a result of it. It does not, for her, go far enough.
"It only covers a few people," she said, "Only the 23,000 people indicated for draft evasion."
"There are 1 million more who need amnesty - veterans with less than honorable discharges; deserters sit at large, and this may be from 5,000 to 40,000; civilian resisters who have court records because they participated in demonstrations; and nonregistrants, who the draft board says were anywhere from 8 to 10 per cent a year."
Simon, sho grew up in Silver Spring and now lives in Massachusetts, feels Carter is unaware of these people. "He is taking a very middle position between the VFW and amnesty groups," she said.
But there are those who will still find a pardon hard to accept; find it hard to work with those who come back; say the proposal will cause resentment between the man who served and those who didn't.
Mrs. Allan Flott of Chevy Chase had a son and two sons-in-law in Vietnam. Her son, Charles, was killed in June, 1972, while on duty with the Green Berets.
"Anything worth having is worth fighting for and this country is worth fighting for," she said. "I think Carter's wrong. But what is one person's opinion?
"I'm sorry that I lost a son."