The only fully certified heroes at yesterday's inauguration, unless you count those who braved the cold, were the Congressional Medal of Honor winners who talked to each other about everything but their exploits at a series of reunions in town.
At one such reunion, a breakfast sponsored by the Reserve Officers Association, Medal of Honor holder Fred E. Ferguson warned: "If you came for war stories, you came to the wrong place. Who are you going to tell a war story to around here? I don't believe I've heard a war story since I've been in the Medal of Honor Society."
But, when questioned, Ferguson and other heroes whom the Inaugural Committee brought to Washington would talk about the old days and express some hopes for the new ones under President Carter.
Ferguson stood out from the 200 Medal of Honor winners at the breakfast because he came from his home in Tempe, Ariz., resplendent in cowboy clothes, including a giant hat and turquoise jewelry.
He won the Medal of Honor by flying his Huey helicopter down through enemy fire in Hue on Jan. 31, 1968 - the height of the Tet offensive - to rescue five Americans surrounded by enemy soldiers.
Ferguson was an Army warrant officer then. He has since risen to the rank of major in the National Guard and makes his living as part-owner of a janitor supply business in Arizona.
"I'm a Goldwater Republican," said Ferguson when asked what he thought of Carter. "But you've got to give every man a chance. If Carter can cut down on some of this government paperwork, like he says, I'm all for him."
The Vietnam war is still a painful topic for its heroes when they are forced to discuss it.
The lesson out of that war, said Medal of Honor winner Charles Q. Williams, 43, of Columbia, S.C., in what seemed a typical view, is either go all out to win or stay home.
Williams won the Medal of Honor for rallying his greatly outnumbered forces at a Green Beret camp in Dongxoai on June 9 and 10, 1965, giving American airpower time to fly in and finish off an attacking force of about $9,000 Vietcong troops.
"We should either have gotten the hell out of there (Vietnam) back then in 1965 or went in and done it. Not let ourselves get pecked on for seven years. The hell with that piecemeal business," Williams said.
Williams had two careers during his 24 years in the Army, one as an enlisted man in which he rose to sergeant and the other as an officer in which he went from lieutenant to major before retiring in 1966. He identified with Carter as a man who rose from humble beginnings.
"I'm a Southerner and I like him," Williams said. "I like his humble background and the way he came up through the ranks."
Jose M. Lopez, 66, of Mission, Tex., told one of those stories about the paradozes of military service.
Lopex said he won the Medal of Honor by staying at his machine gun while German troops were attacking his company in the Battle of the Bulge in December, 1944. His fire was so effective that his infantry company got time to reorganize and repulse the attack.
Despite those heroics, when the Koren War broken out Lopez drew the grisly task of collecting bodies of American soldiers killed in action and registering them for burial. But he, along with a group of typists, clerks and cooks, were suddenly ordered to the front to stop an enemy breakthrough in Korea in 1950.
As he was leaving for what he believed at the time would be certain death, an Army captain who recognized him from the old days said Lopez had had enough combat in his lifetime, and ordered him to Japan.
After the Korean War ended, Lopez was put on recruiting duty and ordered to find some young men for the Army. He signed up his own son, Juan, and then urged his daughters to join the Army as well until "my wife really got on me." His four daughters stayed home.
Lopez, when asked about Carter, said he feels the American people are getting lazy. Carter will energize them the way his favorite President, John F. Kennedy, did, Lopez predicted.
Outside of three active: duty Marines who looked ready to go into battle on a moment's notice, the congregation of heros looked most like an office retirement party. Wives and children were eating breakfast alongside the nation's most honored warriors. The conversations, as one hero put it, was "just stuff" - not of heroic deeds nor burning issues like amnest.