`` `No. No,` we`d tell them. `Just come. Wear an old patch if you want to or a whole uniform. It doesn`t matter. What`s his old unit?` Sometimes you`d hear her muffled voice, asking somebody about his old unit. The guy must have been standing right there and was too nervous to call himself.`` The fact that 200,000 veterans turned out on the morning of the parade is testament to how badly they wanted to come.
    Tom Lewis, 39, a Chicago security guard supervisor was 19 in 1967 when he fought with Company A, 1st Battalion of the 1st Cavalry Regiment in the 1st Cavalry Division. He saw heavy action. Afterwards he was never comfortable with memories of the war, so, he says, he decided not to march. ``The night before, though, I started rethinking it. I got two brothers in California who were there (in Vietnam), too, and they got Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts. I figured somebody should represent the family. The next morning I went to Navy Pier and found the 1st Cav unit, and I started feeling more comfortable with the whole idea.``
    Once the parade started, Lewis says, he looked over and saw another 1st Cav vet, and a look of recognition spread over their faces. It was Jim Bowen, the veteran who had been harassed by antiwar protesters on his return from Vietnam and then in college. They had served together in the same company.
    Before the weekend was over, Lewis and Bowen found two other men from the company, including their old captain. They learned from the captain that on the basis of a fierce battle they had fought on March 21, 1967, their entire company had been awarded a Presidential Unit Citation. The citation is a distinction rarely bestowed on a company-sized unit and was awarded so many years after the fact that only a few members of Lewis and Bowen`s company were tracked down and informed of the honor. They found out, too, that their medic had been awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day. ``I can`t tell you how glad I was that I went to that parade,`` Lewis says. ``To see these guys and to find out what we had done, I can`t express the pride I feel now. To see people on both sides of the street cheering us, well, it made me feel good, but it was good for the country to feel it, too.``
    Jim Hennigan, a 40-year-old Chicago policeman who had been a military policeman running convoys around the Saigon area in 1968, hadn`t planned to march until the day before the parade: ``I think I was like a lot of other guys, worried that the parade would end up being some big political statement one way or the other, expressing something I didn`t believe in.``
    But the day before the parade his 18-year-old nephew, who had read every letter Hennigan had written home to his mother and father during the war, asked if he would march so that the nephew could march with him. The night before the parade Hennigan pulled out an old shoebox and sorted through pictures of buddies and Vietnamese friends from the war. In the morning, before he and his nephew left home for the Loop, he stuck several of the photos in his shirt pocket over his heart.
    ``These are the ones who won`t be here to march,`` he told his nephew.
``At least I can share it with them this way.``
    Hennigan says he was staggered by his own reaction to the parade. ``I wasn`t prepared for all the things that happened back then to start unfolding again now. That was the surprise--the emotional release on all sides. If you`ve never been cheered by half a million people before, you`d like to do it every Friday.``
    David King, 37, a house painter in Cornucopia, Wis., says he rejected the idea of the parade when he heard about it earlier this year. ``My feelings were that it was much too late to attempt something like this,`` he says. ``At least 15 years too late.``
    Vice commander of his local Vietnam Veterans of America chapter, King says he and the chapter commander had argued about the merits of coming down to Chicago. Both have had serious problems adjusting since the war, he says. The commander wanted to go but couldn`t afford to; King could afford to but didn`t want to. But at midnight before the parade he changed his mind, called his buddy, picked him up, lent him $100 and set off for Chicago.
    They drove all night, 500 miles, stopping only for gas and coffee. They arrived after the parade had started. King parked his camper on the south side of the Loop, and the two men raced down the parade route, looking for their units. Breathless, King came on his, the 1st Cavalry, in time to march past the reviewing stand. ``Seeing all those guys,`` he says, ``it was like I was back in 1970, coming home looking ragged and tired. I was higher than a kite from pure emotion. It brought me down to earth and took me up at the same time. It`s the first time in a long time that I lost that angry attitude I`ve had since the war.
    ``I spent the next three days wandering all over the city, looking at faces, trying to find somebody I knew back then. I didn`t find anybody I knew, but I spent a lot of time at The Wall because my best friend is on there. Our tours were up about the same time, and we were taking care of each other over there so we could go home together. He went out on a survey detail a week before I left and got blown up. I don`t know, it just felt nice to be by the wall, to know that somebody who knew him was there during this thing.``
    Though many men were wary of marching in the parade, nothing could keep Tim Sheehe, 40, a steelworker from Newark, N.Y., from coming to Chicago. He had been to the Washington and New York parades, and he says the spiritual lift that he gets from being with other veterans has turned his life around.
    ``The thing for me,`` he says, ``is to find guys from my own unit. You didn`t use name tags when you were in combat, so you didn`t know guys` real names unless you asked. For me, I didn`t ask. I knew most guys by the nicknames they used. `Ski` if he was Polish. `Detroit` if he was from Detroit and so on. I didn`t want to get real close with no one in case something happened. But I didn`t realize until later that these were the best friends I ever would have, and it was too late to track them down. The thing is, if you run into these guys now that you knew back then and they`re healthy and their kids are healthy, you can`t describe the lift it gives you.``
    Sheehe joined a 1st Cavalry company as a replacement in March, 1968, as the ``FNG.`` FNG is a GI acronym that when spelled out is partly unprintable but was used to describe the new guys coming into the unit. As an FNG Sheehe was assigned to a black squad leader from Chicago who had to break him into the reality of combat. The squad leader gave Sheehe a rough time for a few weeks. He gave him the dirtiest details until he was satisfied that Sheehe was made of the right stuff. Then they became good friends.
    ``I never got to know his real name,`` Sheehe says of the squad leader,
``but I never forgot him. We got to be real tight over there. We were together just before Christmas, and he was just a few days short. He didn`t know where he was hit, but we both knew it was bad, and they pulled him out. It was like the lights went out of the world.``
    Once in Chicago Sheehe spent much of his time circulating throught the 1st Cav contingent looking at faces, looking for somebody, anybody who seemed familiar. He finally came across a black face
    that he was sure he knew.
    ``You carried the radio for the lieutenant,`` were the black`s first words.
    ``That`s right,`` Sheehe replied. ``You were the squad leader.``
    They had found each other again. Jim Walker, 39, a CTA bus driver for the last 16 years, had been wondering since 1968 about Sheehe but didn`t know Sheehe`s full name. The day before he was wounded, Walker says, he attended a mass at which the chaplain spoke about death and how to know, if you were hit, whether you were dead or alive. ``Just blink your eyes,`` the chaplain had said. ``Death is like night and day, and you`ll know if you`re still alive.`` ``When I got hit the next day, I blinked my eyes,`` Walker says, ``and I thought, `Hey, I`m going back to the world.` I got back and just put it all behind me, got a steady job, a lovely wife and two beautiful kids and got on with my life.
    ``You wanted to stick your chest out, being a veteran and all, but it just wasn`t that way for us guys.
    ``That`s why I went to the parade, and it made me feel real good. But to look over and see a guy you knew, that was something special. When Tim came into my squad, I gave him a bad time, hauling ammo. You had to, just to see what a guy was made of, to see if he was into drugs or something so you could stay away from him. Those guys could get you hurt.
    ``But Tim, I saw he was one tough dude right away. He was a natural. He`s white, and I`m black, but you didn`t see that there. If you were a man, you did your job, you were a friend. I didn`t find a better one there than Tim. That`s what the parade did for me; it found Tim Sheehe for me. I`m blessed to find him. I know I am.``
    Once the parade and the weekend were over, members of the parade committee closed their office, satisfied that they had produced a once-in-a-lifetime event. ``We needed to do it once,`` Stack says, ``but now it`s time to get on with other things. I hope we`ve heightened consciousness about Vietnam veterans and the issues that still concern them. There won`t be another parade, but a lot of us who worked on it are going to continue to work together in some capacity, particularly in veterans` employment, Agent Orange and the POW-MIA issues.``
    Other cities, including Los Angeles and Houston, now are planning their own welcome parades. But Chicago`s, because of its location and its organization, probably will never be duplicated. It pulled so many veterans from every corner of the country. Even the Australian airborne contingent went home determined that their country, too, will have a parade.
    ``A parade is nothing more than a symbol, but symbols can change a lot of minds, and I think our parade did that,`` says Phil Meyer. ``Most of the vets I`ve talked with who marched in it have said they can`t remember walking down La Salle Street. They only remember this dreamlike thing, the clouds of white coming down on them, their hearts jumping out of their mouths, their crying. It`s what should have happened. It`s what a grateful country does.``

-- William Mullen