NEW YORK -- Across the railroad tracks in a converted handbag factory in Queens, two television sets beam news of the Persian Gulf War into a "living room" like few in America.
This corner of the old cinderblock factory, decorated with a colorful mural crowded with bloody images from wars past, serves as a "living room" to 400 former soldiers who, for as many reasons as there are war stories, have no other home just now.
For some at the Borden Avenue Veterans Residence, the nation's first shelter exclusively for homeless veterans, Operation Desert Storm has provoked fresh cynicism about a government that they know from experience has lied to its own people in the past. Yet others have found pride and vindication in a war that their president has promised will not become another Vietnam.
"This opens old graves for the soldiers," said Felix Jimenez, a sad-eyed combat veteran whom the other residents call 'The Undertaker.' "You're back in 'Nam; you smell the napalm," said Jimenez, who, like a Buddha on sentry duty, keeps a lonesome watch at the shelter's front entrance, somberly intoning, "Incoming," each time the door opens.
Dozens of veterans gathered near the televisions Tuesday night to watch President Bush's State of the Union address, although many barely looked up from their pool tables or card games.
Moments into the speech, as the president said, "What is at stake is more than one small country, it is a big idea . . . ," one slim Vietnam veteran named Eddie drawled, "Why does this sound so familiar?" A few men snickered.
"The government is force-feeding us the information they want us to have," said Ron Hansford, 40, who served in the Army from 1972 to 1975. "It's almost like they can't trust us with the truth. If we find out the kids over there jeopardized their lives for one cause, and it turns out to be something else, it's going to hurt."
Half of the shelter's residents served in Vietnam, many in combat. Thirty percent served before and after Vietnam, while 10 percent were in the Korean War. Occasionally, a World War II veteran stays here.
If they harbor bitterness, most seem to reserve it for themselves, not for the conditions that may have brought them here. They say they are here because they drink or use drugs, because their apartment burned down or they fought with their wife, girlfriend or parents. One of eight men here suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
For that reason, when the televisions and lights go off, the terror often begins. Some cry out in their sleep, awake with a start in nightmares or pace the cold linoleum floor. One veteran hears sniper fire and takes shelter under his cot.
But these are the happenings of a typical night, even before the start of Operation Desert Storm, said Alfred Peck, shelter administrator and a Vietnam veteran who counsels those with stress disorder.
"We don't have fighter pilots in here," he said. "We have ground troops for the most part. When you see a ground war start, that's when you're going to have a reaction, and I'm not sure what to expect."
For many veterans of Vietnam, however, the war's most traumatic moments occurred not in combat but in coming home. Every Vietnam veteran interviewed at the shelter has a homecoming story about being spit on or called a baby-killer by what many called some ignorant, barefoot long-hairs who spent the war in college.
When Bob Adukoski, 43, returned from Saigon 21 years ago, he attended a Christmas party given by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He remembers being confronted in the bathroom by a World War II veteran who snarled, "Aren't you one of those guys over there losing the war?"
Adukoski still carries in his wallet a rumpled Vietnamese driver's license and a worthless piece of South Vietnamese currency. "I came back with my tail tucked between my legs, like we all did," he said.
For veterans such as him, this new conflict, in which even anti-war protesters actually are waving American flags and voicing warm support for the troops, has signaled an end to the humiliation that they associate with Vietnam.
"It will make me feel better about myself when these guys come back as heroes," Adukoski said. "We never got a parade. But when they get their parade, I'll feel good."