Judy Herrington, Mary Lu Brunner and Nancy Overstreet, all veterans of the Vietnam War, stood yesterday in front of the black panels of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and tried to reconcile their own war experiences as nurses in the late 1960s with what is happening now in the Mideast.

"I am scared to death for them," Herrington, now married and living in Tucson, said of soldiers there.

"What I think is really sick is that you now have Vietnam vets with kids who are 18 and 19 and 20 who are in Saudi Arabia or on their way over," said Brunner, who lives in Minneapolis.

"The other thing," said Overstreet, a Los Angeles resident, "is that we don't have any reason to be there . . . . The only thing this is doing is making Mr. Bush's Texas friends wealthy."

Yesterday -- on the eve of Veterans Day, the day that honors all those who have served in the armed forces -- the crowds at the Vietnam Memorial were smaller than usual for a Saturday, probably because it was cold, wet and windy. But the veterans there predicted the memorial will be packed today, even if there is bad weather.

It is the first Veterans Day since the mid-1970s that has come with a large U.S. force facing the possibility of war. Many Americans wonder whether the nation might be headed for another Vietnam.

Some veterans at the wall were less cynical than Overstreet about the U.S. military buildup.

"I don't believe it is for oil," said Jim Monroe, a former Marine from Phoenix. "I think it is for the world." Asked whether there should be a war, he said it is a tough decision.

"Thank God, I don't have to make it, but yeah, because we are dealing with someone who doesn't think the way we do. Who doesn't put any value on human life."

"I don't like war, but it is something that has to be done," said former Marine Jim Frost, 43, of Cumberland, Md. "Keep these people on {Capitol} Hill out of it, and get some decent generals this time who seem to know what . . . they are doing."

The nurses are here to participate in activities pressing for the establishment of a Vietnam women's memorial, near the existing memorial. The women are trying to raise money for the women's memorial, although Overstreet noted that "if we could save one day's cost of troops going over, we would have the money for it."

Herrington, making her first visit to the wall, said she is still trying to come to terms with what she saw in Vietnam as a nurse caring for men who had been injured in combat. "I pushed it away for a long, long time. I didn't want to deal with it . . . . Just recently, it came flooding back. There's no way to get rid of it. When it is there, it's there." Herrington said she has nightmares and sleepless nights. "I am trying to learn to live with it, day by day."

She said she is concerned now because her 18-year-old son has been talking about joining the Marines. "I am strongly opposed to recruiters and their methods," she said.

Standing near an entrance to the walkway that runs in front of the panels of names of those who died in the Vietnam War were three New York veterans: Tom O'Connor, an electrician for Consolidated Edison; Larry Haupt, a Fifth Avenue vendor; and Joe McCoy, a schoolteacher.

They predicted that there will be a war in the Gulf.

"I don't want the troops used and abused," said O'Connor. "If you are going to use them, take care of them. "

"I don't think we ought to be there fighting for oil," Haupt said. "They really don't like us in the first place. They don't want us over there at all. It is a different culture."

McCoy said he has a nephew and a cousin in Saudi Arabia with the U.S. force. "They wrote me that this is the worst place in the world for a person from the West to be," McCoy said.