America is reaching out to resolve its political differences with Vietnam, a bitter gulf dividing some of the war's survivors grows deeper.

It has led to charges of treason, a lawsuit, a suicide and continuing antimosity.

The conflict is between two groups of Americans who were held prisoner in North Vietnam during the war - those who resisted their captors and those who willingly cooperated.

Neither side is large in this personal war. Both sides are convinced they are right, and the attacks on the antiwar POW's have only strengthened their convictions.

"Most of the POWs celebrate the day they were released. But I celebrate the day I was captured," said Robert P. Chenoweth, a former U.S. Army sergeant taken prisoner in 1968. "It was a red-letter day for me, the day I began understanding another race."

A peace committee that Chenoweth helped form actively opposed the war through taped statements and meetings with visiting pacifists.

Chenoweth's group infuriated senior Air Force and Navy officers also held prisoner. They demanded that the primary guide by resisting their captors, as spelled out by the U.S. Military Code of Conduct's requirement that only name, rank and serial number be given.

Two of these officers later filed charges against 10 in the antiwar group. The charges were dropped on compassionate grounds after the suicide of one of those named, Abel Kavanaugh of Westminster, Colo. He left a note saying he could not face imprisonment again.

The code of conduct has since been reworded to allow POWs greater latitude in responding to questions from their captors. The antiwar POWs see this as one vindication of their actions.

However, several books by former POWs and others have harshly criticized Chenoweth and the other anti-war prisoners. The critics continue to speak out against them on talk shows and on the lecture circuit.

On the other hand, at least four of the antiwar prisoners are still convinced they were right and continue to say so.

"The majority of POWs felt the same way I did but were reluctant to assist us because of possible reprisals at home," said Michael Branch, a former Army specialist 4th class who spent five years in prison and admitted signing antiwar statements, appearing on regular radio programs in Hanoi and writing letters to President Nixon and members of Congress denouncing the war.

"I'm only sorry I didn't cooperate sooner," said Branch, now a graduate student at Ohio University at Athens. He is studying Southeast Asian politics.

Former U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Ed Miller of Los Angeles said he "openly criticized the way, I have always said what I think. Our country thrives on dissent."

He was shot down in October 1967 and said he attempted to resist giving classified information. Since coming home, Miller has gotten a degree and says he is "a lawyer for the downtrodden."

These prisoners also dispute the POWs' general view that torture was widespread in Vietnamese prison camp.

"I don't believe the North Vietnamese had a systematic plan to torture prisoners," said Alfonso Riate of Los Angeles, a former Marine master sergeant imprisoned in 1967. He said he was held in several camps, including the notorious "Hanoi Hilton."

"To resist was to be punished, as I was after two unsuccessful escape attempts," Riate said. "But overall I think they treated us very well."

Miller said, "I don't believe most of the torture stories. I would say around 10 percent were tortured. One man I know was placed in solitary after going out of his way to give his captors a hard time."

"To my knowledge," said Chenoweth, 30 or 35 POWs were tortured, and they were the hardliners who believed implacably in adhering to every word of the code of conduct. I know torture was not a policy of the Vietnamese."

The former POWs talk openly about their experiences. Riate, who works with disabled veterans in an outreach program, said, "I tell them I suffer a stigma from the war. Most of them are sympathetic. They say I have done something few have ever done, that I resisted the war in prison. As the years go by, I feel I am being vindicated."

Chenoweth, who works for a Washington, D.C., research firm, said people continue to be surprised when he talks of his treatement during imprisonment and when he says he was sorry to leave Vietnam.

"I knew there was no danger from our captors," he said. "What I was most concerned about was our reception back home when he would get released."

Branch is still bitter about the treatment he received when he came home. He said he was ill with dysentery and was placed alone in a room at the Ireland Army Hospital at Fort Knox, Ky., with two military policemen outside his door.

Nowadays, in his classes, Branch argues with professors who he thinks do not understand the subtleties of Southeast Asian politics.

Miller, who said he had once hoped to be a Marine Corps general, recently sued another former POW who believes slandered him on a radio talk show.

Nearly 300 former prisoners of war had a reunion in Los Angeles last May and were invited to former president Nixon's home at San Clemente. None of the antiwar prisoners was invited.