Forget, for a moment, that the 14 men standing before the Vietnam Veterans Memorial were speaking Lithuanian and Russian.
Lay aside the facts that their war was in the rugged hills of Afghanistan and that they fought under a flag emblazoned with a hammer and sickle.
Look, instead, at the tears they shed yesterday before the names of the fallen and listen to their bitterness. It almost might be American veterans of the Vietnam War speaking:
"When I was wounded, I was lying in the hospital for seven months. At that time, 1984, nobody wanted to speak about this war that nobody liked," said Kurdiukov Valerij, 28, a Byelorussian whose service in the war against Afghanistan cost him three fingers and a foot.
"It was a crazy thing to send our people to this war," said Raimondas Eitchinas, a Lithuanian who received serious leg injuries and a skull fracture. "But their destiny was set for them by the government. They were all forced to serve in an occupation army."
The common bonds between the Soviet and American veterans of unpopular wars were apparent at the Vietnam Memorial, where a few of the Soviets who served in the nine-year war in Afghanistan made a kind of pilgrimage yesterday, as guests of Vietnam veterans.
"Our government did not want this memorial, they did not want us to remember," said Jan C. Scruggs, founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial fund. Eitchinas replied, "It is the same with our government," as the other Soviet men nodded.
The Lithuanian and Soviet veterans, who are struggling to erect a memorial of their own, seemed captivated by the black granite wall that has inspired them, standing silently before it, placing flowers before it, excitedly tracing names that appeared to be Lithuanian or Latvian. When the time came to leave, no one wanted to go.
"This is good, instead of a sculpture, just the names -- so you remember the people," said from Washington's Hard Rock Cafe to Minnesota's wild rivers, is part of a Minnesota-based project called Common Fate. A joint project of a chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America and a Minneapolis-based group named Wilderness Inquiry, Common Fateis intended to promote friendship and give the younger Soviet veterans a chance to learn from their American "big brothers."
"Afghanistan veterans are about where we were 20 years ago in terms of services, organizing and public recognition," said Doug Sandstrom, president of Common Fate. A Vietnam veteran who lost his legs in a rocket attack in 1967, Sandstrom formed his group after a trip to Lithuania last year brought him together with Eitchinas, the head of the Afghanistan veterans' group.
It was not long after the Soviet veterans -- most of whom spoke through translators -- arrived in the Washington area Tuesday, that they began comparing notes with their hosts. They talked about their common struggles: disputes over the number of war dead, campaigns to bring back prisoners of war and the many faces of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Whatever you call it, Virgilyous said, the trauma of the war paralyzed him emotionally for a year after he returned from his two-year tour.
"It was so difficult to hear the music from the war that soldiers were singing. Sometimes we have it on TV," Virgilyous said.
"Nobody knows how to treat veterans. Many are in prison, many are drinking," Valerij said Tuesday evening.
"It was hard for me to feel sick," Valerij said, "to feel it's okay to be sick."
As he sat talking in a Jessup fast food restaurant, his puzzled group had a chance encounter with a friendly Vietnam veteran, who warned them with hearty pantomime that burgers and fries will make you fat.
"You and I are brothers," he said, plunking down next to Virgilyous on the tiny seat and hugging him.
One of the greatest problems for the Afghanistan veterans are their injuries, many made more disabling by the rudimentary state of medical services, rehabilitation and prosthetics in the Soviet Union. For instance, Virgilyous, whose hand is missing, wanted a cigarette yesterday as he walked away from the memorial. Meskis Pavel had to light it for him.
"All he needs is a hook and he could do that himself," said Lynn Bryant, an Ellicott City-based consultant who works on technology for the disabled and is helping Common Fate.
The only positive byproduct of the war in Afghanistan, Valeriji said, is that it helped to politicize many Soviet people.
"When the war began, ideology was very strong. Simple people thought war in Afghanistan was to make people free of capitalism and thought it would bring freedom to the people," he said. "Only now, people are beginning to ask questions: 'Why did we have this war? Why?' "