Certain scars from the war probably lie beyond the healing power of a presidential proclamation, like little bits of shrapnel buried too deep for easy removal.
These pop up, now and then, briefly aggravating, according to young men who were there. A recurring dream perhaps, fighting in an unnamed patch of jungle, the helpless feeling where people are shooting at you but you can't see them.
A former chaplain's casual remembrance of one particular death notification, then spontaneous tears. An abrupt tremor in a young businessman's voice as he attempts to explain, in clinical terms, this anger which lies deep within, beyond clear expression.
The war was over long ago and mainly forgotten when this new President issued his pardon proclamation for those who refused to serve in it. His action seemed to distress some citizens, in part because it reminded them that there had been a war.
It is this loss of memory which seems most to rankle the veterans from Vietnam, not the pardon, not the old arguments of whether the war was right or wrong, whether it was moral to fight or to resist or to run. What aggravates the old scars is this strange notion that they are the only souls walking around in this great nation with anything left of the war inside them.
What follows are brief conversations with three men from the millions, a quick glimpse only of what must surely lie out there across America. They are successful people, moving forward with their private lives, capable and self-confident and, therefore, their feelings are probably less dramatic than others which might be told.
The purpose of their words is got to re-open the old political arguments, the old wounds, but to make a simpler statement: it is a terrible thing, even obscene, that other Americans should forget so easily when something more needs to be done. A monument or a law or something. The problem is nobody has yet figured out how to say to all those veterans the healings words they need to hear.
Giovanni Pacheco, a 31-year-old marketing executive in New York, is one of those handsome success stories that walk around America, advertising the best opportunities for those who will struggle.
"Gino" Pacheco grew up in Los Angeles, a Chicago son who wanted to break through the traditional barriers which excluded Mexican-Americans. Thanks partly to the Army, he made it.
After flunking out of college, he enlisted, and the Army made him an officer. He did two tours in Indochina with the Green Berets, he became a student of guerrilla warfare, the tactics and history from the American Revolution to Algeria and Vietnam, after the service, Harvard Business School accepted him as a bright minority applicant, and now he has a master's degree and a promising career.
Still, the war seems like a fresh experience when he talks about it, like a burden that is still following him as he goes briskly up the ladder.
"I don't think most guys are ever going to forget combat, especially in Vietnam," he said. "If you come home and get a pat on the back, you're willing to forget all the bad stuff. When you come back and you get a lot of crap, guys saying you were a fool to go, guys saying you're a murderer, you can't really put it away, it's impossible to forget."
As Pacheco explains it, the Vietnam experience put a lot of minority-group young men like himself through a kind of vicious double-door - first offering them acceptance and mainstream status for their able performance in uniform, then taking it away when they got home and found that Vietnam was a national disgrace.
"I guess minorities feel this more strongly than anyone else," he said. "Having been outcasts, they feel like, damn it, I earned my spot. I proved myself. Then we come back and we get none of this. Instead, they give you a penny when you need a dollar and they want to forget about the whole thing."
Pacheco is in hock for $12,000 for his college which doesn't bother him greatly since he has a good start with a major corporation and the benefits of a classy education. What rankles him is the memory of the Mexican-American and black kids he counseled at Ft. Carson, Colo., who couldn't make the same leap and weren't getting much encouragement to try.
"When I first went in, a lot of us were apprehensive about Vietnam," he said. "It was '66, the thing was getting heavier over there. We accepted the fact that we were going to Vietnam. We were kind of looking forward to it."
Pacheco won a slot at officer candidate school, then volunteered for Green Beret training at Ft. Bragg, N.C. He went to war - as adviser to a Vietnamese army unit on the Cambodian border in the delta region - well-schooled in guerrilla tactics, but unprepared for the blacklash from home.
"I stopped reading the American newspapers," he said. "They were so pro-North Vietnam. I got very close to the Vietnamese I was advising. I got to know them. I liked them. I got to the point where I really didn't care what people in the staes thought."
But he heard from friends, who wrote to him as though they feared he had lost his senses.
"They couldn't understand what happened to me," he recalls. "Why I joined this 'killer' organization, the Green Berets. Why I got sucked in."
At one point, Pacheco wrote a 27-page letter to a friend, trying to explain the war in terms that made sense to him. And he heard from his younger brother, Patrick, who at 18 was applying for conscientious objector status and was ready to go to jail if turned down.
"Even though I was looking at the military as a career," Pacheco said, "We were very close. I really admired him for it. I think it takes a helluva lot for a man to say I'm going against the society and I'm willing to pay the price."
In November, 1968, when his tour ended, Pacheco was back in the states only a few days when he wired Washington, asking for reassignment to Southeast Asia.
"The vibes were too bad here," he said. "Everyone I talked to was a negative. What is it like to kill? How does it feel? Like that. A lot of it was just well-founded curiousity, I think, but a lot of it was twisting it in you. It was like - hey - you're really a loser."
Pacheco went back to the war, caught a little bit of shrapnel in his posterior. From home he heard that one cousin was court-martialed for refusing an order. Another was discharged with psychological problems when a close friend was killed.
"I did have a difficult time adjusting when I got back," he said. "It was sort of an eye-opening experience. We did our job, guys got killed, but we expected that. I lost some damn close friends, but I never really cried over it because they were doing a job. Then when I got back, I really freaked out."
Pacheco worked it out, with support from his family. "Vietnam was good for me," he said. "The Army made me an officer, gave me management experience, got me into Harvard, made me take a good look at myself and at the world as it really is. Nothing good was going to happen to me unless I was going to do it for myself."
But why didn't the other Vietnam vets, he wondered, band together and build their own mutual-support organizations like the ones from earlier wars?
"I've thought about this and I always come out at the same point," Pacheco said. "We were a bunch of losers, and no group is going to get together and be tagged a bunch of loses. I think people want to forget us as soon as possible."
What could anyone do now? Pacheco isn't sure. A TV campaign perhaps, or a monument or better GI benefits, some gesture of respect. He doesn't know the remedy, but he still feels the burden:
"I think veterans feels, I would like the load taken off me. Something to say: look, you jerks, I didn't start the war. I didn't make the policies. I did what I did because it was my obligation, like my father's obligation, like my grandfather's. If it was wrong, fine, but don't burn us for it."
Lyman Sale Jr., a sturdy man with reddish brown hair and the resonant voice of a natural-born preacher, grew up in north Georgia, and was called to the Baptist pulpit when he was 17 years old. After several churches, he became an Army chaplain, where God's ministry seemed so much more immediate and necessary.
"When I was 17, I guess I thought I was going to convert the world," he said, smiling. "Now at 41 I just hope to be able to somehow make it myself without getting in the way of my family and the other people I meet."
Chaplain Sale left the Army and the pulpit, and drifted away from orthodox faith. He now sells automobiles in Northern Virginia ("selling tangibles instead of intangibles," he jokes). Maybe this would have happened to him anyway, without Vietnam.
On his first tour in 1968, Capt. Sale was hospital chaplain in the Eighth Field Hospital at Nhatrang, the coastal zone which he remembers as strangely idyllic, mornings gathering sea shells along the beach, afternoons praying with the wounded.
"It was a bad scene in the sense that it was war," he said, "but it's something that, if you lived through it, you look back on it with some real genuine feelings of, well, it was one of the greatest times of my life."
The war came and went in that strange way. He drank coffee in the morning with brave friends, the air medics, and one evening he looked over their incinerated bodies, trying to help identify them.
But strangely enough, the war reached him more profoundly in 1969 back home in Washington, where he was assigned as battalion chaplain of the Presidential Honor Guard, stationed at Ft. Myer. He conducted more than 600 funerals at Arlington Cemetery and delivered "death notifications" to the families of Vietnam casualties. He remembered:
"That was the hardest part of my job . . . To be the first one to say that, you know, your husband or your son was on a military mission in a military aircraft and shot down and burned. That was a rather terse message. It was the official one, about all that you could give them at that particular moment. I think it cut into a lot of my own idealism about how beautiful the world can be . . . To think that we allow it to continue and we just go right on as though it were a part of life and there's nothing anybody can do about it."
Usually, the chaplain did not have to say much. The people knew the meaning of his visit.
Once, he remembers, a woman pounded on his uniformed chest, wailing: "Why couldn't it be you instead of him?"
"I never did answer," the chaplain said. "It was just something he was feeling at that time."
Back in Vietnam in 1972, the American presence was diminished greatly, but the chaplain still traveled by helicopter to visit troops in the field.
"I'd have my own helicopter and pilot and co-pilot, lower gunner and crew chief," he recalled. "I would think about it as I'd be flying along, I'd be thinking, if we got shot down, somebody would have to take the notice for each of those men as well as my own family.
"I got thinking about what I was doing and whether it was worth taking them out there like that, so I stopped taking them out."
For a while he flew with a general into hot areas where perhaps someone wanted to see a chaplain, perhaps not. After a while, that seemed pointless too.
"I just said to hell with it," he said. "I don't think it's worth it. I don't think it's that important. I'm not going to do it anymore."
When Capt. Sale resigned his chaplaincy, his home denomination, the American Baptists, was upset. "I got the impression they thought I had chickened out," he said. Later when he made himself understood better, he had to explain that he didn't want to crusade against the war or the Army which he still admired. He simply no longer believed in what he was doing or what they were doing in Vietnam.
So he left the church as well and started a new career.
The real world, he says he believes, is a lot tougher place than orthodox religion or pacifist philosophy prepares one to encounter.
"Religion to me now is simply a father wish projected against the heavens," he said."And we would like it to be true that God is there. We don't know whether He is or not, we'd like it to be true. We would like it to be so that that there is going to be peace in the world and that, if we all lay down our arms, nobody's going to run over us. But, in reality, that doesn't happen."
Lyman Sale's changed thinking could be a metaphor for so many Americans, painful knowledge gained from the hard experience. He still believes in God but it is not dogma ("I simply hope there is.") He still believes in peace, but he thinks pacifists must be aggressive ("taking peace to the enemy before he brings war to you").
And he yearns sometimes to go back to Vietnam and see the places where he once served, but he has moved on to a different perspective of himself.
"I decided I'm going to stop trying to convert the world and other people," he said, "and I'm just going to live my own life and let other people live theirs."
Jan Scruggs, a slender and serious young man who lives in Silver Spring fingered the little bit of shrapnel underneath the skin below his knee. "I ought to get it taken out," hesaid idly.
Scruggs caught 12 bits of metal from a rocket-propelled grenade one day on an infantry patrol in the Xuanoc region, but he had his pnocho rolled up tight on the back of his belt and it caught a fragment headed for his spine.
So he was lucky then and, in a way, Scruggs is lucky now. Unlike a lot of other veterans, he has found a way to focus on the resentments and frustrations left over from Vietnam without getting lost in them. Indeed, Scruggs has found a way to objectify them - to measure the scars and reduce them to social-science statistics.
The 26-year-old veteran studied psychological counseling at Prince Georges Community College and did graduate work at American Univeristy and, on his own, has surveyed the Vietnam after-effects among Washington area veterans.
He tramped around the campuses handing out questionnaires to veterans and non-veterans, to those who served in combat and those who didn't, and now he is preparing the results for publication in a professional journal.
The numbers on Scruggs' tables are dry, but their message is chilling. Only about half of the Vietnam veterans in his sample feel the war did not leave them with psychological problems. The effects were stronger among those who saw heavy combat, among draftees rather than enlistees, among those who opposed the war afterward, among black veterans.
Scruggs found that the men who served in combat, especially when their units suffered heavy casualties, are more likely to have lower trust in other people, greater political alienation, more divorces, lower self-esteem.
"It's still a live issue, it's not a dead issue," Scruggs insisted. He thumbed through the short bibliography to demonstrate how little research has been done by psychologists to understand these things or what to do about them.
Scruggs went through the same "negative feelings" when he came home from the war, when nobody was interested in his medal for gallantry or the different world he had seen in the jungle.
"As far as it affects me now, I don't know," he said. "When I think about the social-class implications, the people I served with, the Navajos and Apaches, the blacks and Chicanos, people from Puerto Rico who were drafted, the ones I saw die, it just tends to give me some pretty negative feelings."
Like many of the combat veterans who answered his questionnaire, Scruggs still dreams about it occasionally, not one recurring dream but certain themes that he recognizes as reflections of his war service.
The dream, he explained, is this:
"Basically you are in combat situations. You are kind of helpless to do anything - frustrating type of situation in combat. You never really saw the enemy during battle.All you saw was a thick vegetation in the jungle, explosions to your right and left and bullets hitting trees all around you."