SOMEONE IN THIS TOWN said it and now everyone is saying it: The Vietnam era is dead. It gets repeated wherever you go. It is said in a conversation and it's said on the air and it's written in the newspapers. It's not true. The Vietnam War era is not dead. Not until I am.

The word "I" here is really just a figure of speech. It means me and all the others who lived through that era. It means those who served and fought or those like me who lived with the threat of being called up. It means the parents of these kids and their relatives and their sweethearts and their mailmen who knew, from the feel of the envelope, that the time had come.

We are still around. We are still relatively young and still healthy and we are, bet your bottom dollar, skeptical. We have heard all this before. We have heard this call to war or the moral equivalent thereof and we have heard the language of crisis and watched the consensus that grips the nation when the president or someone waves the bloody shirt of communist aggression.

We stopped them once, baby. We stopped them in Vietnan, remember. We stopped them for so long and so hard that it cost us 50,000 dead and now that they have it, show me how things have changed. Show me how life is different -- better, worse. Come on, I'm waiting.

Sometimes I think of the cathedrals in England where the dead of colonial wars are buried in the floors and in the walls. I am a great reader of plaques, inquisitive about the lives of men who went before, and so I would read about lieutenant this and colonel that, good fellows of fine families and impeccable eduction, who died in some Godforsaken outpost of the empire for a cuase no one even remembers. Very often it was Afghanistan -- the Hindu Kush or something.

It is an awful thing to stand before the remains of some guy who gave, as they say, his all, and think he was a fool for the manner of his dying, but he was. There is nothing anymore to show for it. Nothing but a plaque on the wall for some tourist to read.

The British lost Afghanistan. They lost it several times, in fact, getting nothing out of the effort but rotten poetry by Rudyard Kipling. Life goes on anyway. A British friend has assured me that it is easy to live without Afghanistan. I find this reassuring. I would like to give it a try.

A am a cynic. Once I was not. Once I was a gullible kid, young and sure that we had to stop them -- the commies -- somewhere. I heard all that talk about how they would wind up in San Francisco if we didn't stop them in Saigon and I believed it -- honest. I believed it even after others were in the streets demonstrating.

All during Vietnam, the government lied to me. All the time. Watergate didn't help matters any. More lies. As a result, I'm cynical.I'm the credbility version of the depression baby. I've been shaped, formed by lies. I've heard it all before. I'm like some busty lady who's been told that she's appreciated for her brains. I know better. Prove it. Vietnam has made us all into Missourians. Show me.

Maybe Afghanistan is important. I somehow think it is. Maybe the Russians do have to be stopped. Maybe there is something different between the puppet regime they installed this time and the one they installed last time -- the manner of th installation, maybe. Maybe the time has come for a fight, but the time for peace sure went fast. Salt II never got implemented. We used to have a song for it: All we are saying/is give peace a chance.

This is why what Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has done is good -- maybe not good for him, but certainly good for the country. A lot of us want a debate. We want to hear the issues aired. We want the latter-day version of crazy Wayne Morse and indomitable Ernest Gruening to ask the hard questions, insist on answers, get the whole thing out into the open so this democracy can chew on it and then decide. I don't like to be rushed. I got rushed once, and a lot of men died.

So excuse me my cynicism. Pardon me, but I have heard it all before. The only difference now is that I am too old to be drafted and my son is too young. So I watch and I wait and while I have no sense of personal panic, I do have my memories.

The Vietnam War era is not dead yet. Not until I am.