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Clinton to visit Vietnam wall despite protests President hopes to mend relations


WASHINGTON -- President Clinton will visit Washington's Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery Monday to observe Memorial Day, despite threatened protests from veterans unhappy with his anti-war past.

The appearances will follow a Saturday speech at commencement ceremonies at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and underscore the president's determination to mend long-strained relations with the military, which some opinion polls show to be the most popular government institution in the United States.

The appearances had prompted a postcard campaign from some disgruntled veterans. But George Stephanopoulos, the president's communications director, said yesterday Mr. Clinton "is president of all the people. He believes it is important to pay his respects."

The spokesman said that in remarks at the Vietnam memorial, Mr. Clinton would talk about what is needed to heal scars that remain from the conflict.

The major veterans groups are either neutral on the issue or endorse Mr. Clinton's appearance. "We don't object," said John Sommer, spokesman for the 2.5 million member American Legion. "He's the president and the commander-in-chief and he has every right."

Jan Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, who invited Mr. Clinton, said he was "very pleased."

"We feel that this is a great opportunity to heal the wounds from the Vietnam era," he said. "Now the ball's in his court to design the perfect address."

But Richard Vania, a Korean war veteran from Carthage, N.C., who helped launch the postcard campaign, said at least 500 protesters would show up at the Memorial to register their displeasure at Mr. Clinton's appearance.

Mr. Clinton's troubles with the military began with campaign-season disclosures that he sought an ROTC deferment to avoid the draft. Frictions have been heightened by Mr. Clinton's determination to lift the ban on homosexuals in the military.

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