Vietnam vets: 'This nation cares'

"A nation healing is a good sight to behold . . .," remarked President Carter as he signed a bill authorizing a two-acre site in Washington for the first national memorial to the 2.7 million Americans who served in Vietnam. And so it is.

Located appropriately near the Lincoln Memorial's tribute to the reconciler of another era when bitter conflict divided Americans, the Vietnam veterans memorial -- paid for by private donations -- says much about changing attitudes in the United States. It signals the end of a tragic period in American history. But more important, in the words of Max Cleland, a Vietnam veteran and head of the Veterans Administration, it does "honor to those who have honored us. This will say to all Vietnam veterans this nation cares and we remember."

Recognition of the personal and often courageous sacrifices of the men and women who fought that unpopular war has been slow in coming. But a new nationwide poll conducted for the Veterans Administration indicates that the national bitterness over Vietnam has given way to a new sense of reconciliation and belated appreciation for those who served. The poll found that, although only one in five Americans today voice support for the war, most feel the same "warmth" for Vietnam veterans they do for those who served in other wars. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of Vietnam vets, including those who wer e in heavy combat, are glad they served and would do so again if asked.

For many Vietnam veterans, however, the struggle to readjust in the face of lingering physical and emotional infirmities goes on. An even better expression of national gratitude would be for Congress to ensure the continued use of the "store front" counseling centers that have proven effective in helping many Viet vets to adjust; the program will expire next year unless Congress acts to renew it. Serious congressional consideration might also be given to the kind of comprehensive legislation being proposed for Vietnam veterans by Rep. John Anderson.

In any case, it is encouraging that, as Mr. Cleland aptly put it, "the country is beginning to seperate the warriors from the war. . . . A good deal of healing has taken place."

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