The unveiling of The Wall in November, 1982, attended by 150,000 marching veterans, provoked a national outpouring of sympathy and tapped a reservoir of grief for the 58,000 whose names are on it. A similar ceremony in 1984 dedicating a statue near The Wall depicting three exhausted combat soldiers in Vietnam had the same effect. In May, 1985, New York City, at the unveiling of its own Vietnam memorial, held a ticker-tape parade down Broadway for 27,000 veterans.
    Three of the marchers in the New York parade were Chicagoans Tom Stack, Roger McGill and Julio Gonzalez. Stack knew McGill, 43, a middle-level executive at Illinois Bell Telephone Co., and Gonzalez, 38, a janitor for General Motors Corp., from an organization of vets suffering from effects of Agent Orange. All three were moved by the outpouring of good will from the bystanders along Broadway. Stack revived his dream of doing something in Chicago.
    Two days after the New York parade Stack was in Mayor Harold Washington`s office, asking to see the mayor or one of his top aides. His idea for a parade sparked some cautious interest among some of the mayor`s aides, as it did with aides to Ald. Bernard Stone, chairman of the City Council`s special events committee. Stack and his friends were encouraged enough to start planning.
``From the start,`` Stack says, ``we wanted the parade to be something organized by veterans for veterans. We needed backing from the city, of course, and help from others. But we didn`t want a hint of politics in the parade or anything that hinted of jingoism or the idea of `hooray for war.` We wanted to put together something memorable, something that would show veterans in a different light, something with a healing spirit to it.``
    Through the summer of 1985 the veterans met frequently at one another`s houses. As word traveled through the grapevine, veterans whom Stack and the others didn`t know joined them. Phil Meyer came in, as did Angelo Terrell, assistant Illinois director of the U.S. Department of Labor, and Larry Langowski, another Illinois Bell executive. So did Connie Edwards, a former nurse who served in Vietnam, and John Wright, an ex-helicopter pilot who runs his own media-consulting business in Oak Park. Ken Plummer, another Oak Parker and a retired Army colonel who had served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, came in with a wealth of knowledge on organizing special events.
    In fact, when the group announced its first organizational meeting at City Hall last September, they reserved a room seating 50, but 500 veterans showed up, eager to help out. There were some surprising encounters at the meetings. Men who worked in the same large corporations and banks and knew each other professionally were shocked to find out they were fellow veterans. A lot of the men, because of the stigma surrounding Vietnam vets, had found it convenient professionally not bring up their service histories unless asked.
    Two vets who are executives with Jefferies and Co. Inc., a brokerage firm at 55 W. Monroe St., called and offered a vacant suite in their offices. Thus, without any money, the committee acquired a posh office with four telephones at a toney address. Early on the committee members thought they could do the whole show for $1.5 million. They hoped to attract large corporate donations but never raised more than $300,000. The city promised $75,000 in seed money to get them started but dragged its feet until March, 1986, before releasing the first $25,000. ``We were just an ad hoc committee with no track record whatsoever,`` says Langowski. ``We didn`t have any credibility with the business community, and in a way I can`t blame them. They had no idea who we were, whether we were trying to stage something to bolster some left-wing or right-wing cause. We had this image problem (characteristic) of all Vietnam vets, of being pictured as a group of ponytails and fatigue jackets.``
    Most corporate donors they solicited were polite but unresponsive. The committee`s lack of credibility hurt them with military organizations as well. Bands from the various services at first begged off appearing in the parade, claiming they were already booked. Similarly the VA said it would be impossible to bring busloads of hospitalized vets to ride in the parade.
    But letters with $5 and $10 donations enclosed began to come in from veterans and nonveterans who had heard about the parade. Neighborhood bars began throwing benefit nights in support of the parade that raised $200, $500 or $1,000 at a time.
    Even so, in January of this year, the committee was barely paying for the postage. Starting with a mailing list of 2,500 veterans organizations and individuals around the country, it sent them notices of the parade and asked them to spread the word. The list grew to 12,400 names. Positive responses began to pour in. ``We were sure all along,`` Stack says, ``because Chicago is in the Midwest and is such a transportation hub that we would have no trouble getting more veterans to march here than in New York. We were thinking of 35,000 to 50,000, and I was beginning to think maybe even 100,000.``
    ``We didn`t want just veterans,`` Stack says, ``we wanted them to bring their families, too, so we wrapped four days of activities around our parade, hoping people would make a mini-vacation out of it.``
    Mindful that few blacks had turned out for the Washington and New York events, the committee drew black vets into the group at the outset and held many of their organizational meetings in the city`s black neighborhoods. As an added draw for out-of-town vets the committee arranged four-day reunions of the various national divisional associations in downtown hotels. The associations are made up of men who have served in divisional units such as the Americal or 101st Airborne divisions in the Army or the 3d Division in the Marines.
    More than two dozen associations held reunions on parade weekend, including a group of Australians who had fought in the war and came to Chicago for the parade. Some of the divisional reunions attracted several thousand men in their own right.
    The committee also brought in the half-sized traveling replica of The Wall in Washington, D.C. They placed it in Grant Park a week early to stir interest in the parade all week long.
    By appealing to veterans of America`s earlier wars to join the parade, the committee was trying to make a point, too. ``We thought the parade should be a unifying influence in all ways,`` says Ken Plummer. ``The idea was,
`Let`s close the gap between Vietnam veterans and vets of other eras and get over the estrangement.` That`s why we brought in 80 Medal of Honor winners from four wars, to symbolize the continuity of service and valor.``
    But the parade was, ultimately, for the Vietnam vets. The organizers built the theme of the parade around problems growing out of the war that continue to confront Vietnam veterans: Agent Orange, soldiers missing in action, prisoners of war, an unemployment rate of 24 percent among black veterans.
    Two weeks before the parade the committee knew their meticulous planning was paying off. From responses they were getting by mail and telephone, it predicted that 100,000 veterans would march, even though most of the local news media and city officials rolled their eyes in skepticism.
    The last four days before the parade the four phones at the parade headquarters never stopped ringing.
    ``A lot of those phone calls in the last few days were really touching,`` Ken Plummer recalls. ``A lot of them were from wives who were anxious for their men to march and get their feelings out in the open, wanting to know how to convince them to come. Were they too late? they wanted to know. Did they have to wear their uniforms?