Like a stiff shot of whiskey, the shiny medals that decorate Gary Tolman's suit lapel help ease the pain.

But only temporarily.The long overdue tribute to the Vietnam veteran this week by government officials and "brothers" in service can't dull, he said, the anger that has possessed his soul for nearly 20 years - and destroyed his life.

Hatred continues to dart from the dark eyes of the 38-year-old veteran whose fighting spirit was crushed by a government "that didn't give a damn" and overlooked him for many years before the medals were finally awarded.

"It's about time they gave them to me . . . after all these years," he said. "At least my kids will have them - know what I did."

What Tolman did was believe in America. To defend his country, he lied about his age - 17 - to enlist in the service. Like his brother Chuck had done, he went to fight in Vietnam.

"I felt proud to be an American. I felt proud because I was going to go fight - to help the cause."

The Lehi teenagers - Gary, a weapons instructor in the infantry, and Chuck, a member of the Special Forces - even fought side-by-side for a short time at Phu Bai with the 101st Airborne Division. Their bond, solidified in the face of danger, is reflected in wrinkled photographs, safeguarded in two dilapidated albums, worn from repeated viewing.

The Tolmans were orphans, shuffled from family to family, who became Green Berets - war heroes on the front battle lines of a foreign embattled country. "It was kind of spooky. Over there, I never knew who the enemy was. There were little girls and little boys planting booby traps. And old women," Chuck said. "The old guys were Viet Cong. Then there was the real army."

But on the home front, their enemies aren't disguised.

One is Huntington chorea, the inherited neurological disorder that eventually results in dementia, uncontrolled body movements and death.

Both men's movement has been slowed by the crippler; their speech slurred. They even sometimes trip, faint and fall.

Chuck, in fact, unable to care for himself and two children, moved to Twin Pines Care Center three months ago. He stopped driving an 18-wheeler for a living in 1980 after losing an eye in a bar fight. Anger is the most formative enemy keeping a tight grip on the two men.

It cost Gary more than just an eye - his mental health, his wife and his respect for Uncle Sam.

"I just can't get along with anybody - women or nothing like that. I am angry about the way they treated us after Vietnam. They didn't give a damn about anybody," said the soldier, as he rested his beaten body on his brother's bed.

"A Vietnam Vet and Proud of It" is written on a baseball cap lying nearby. Bracelets with the names of GIs missing in action are on each man's wrist.

"All of our friends who died in Vietnam, they finally gave them a monument," said Gary, fighting back the tears. "That's all . . . "

No longer does the once strapping youth have the strength to express his anger; it just shows - in the eyes that brim with moisture when he remembers.

Chuck, whose world has become almost as narrow as the nursing home corridor, is bitter too. A government that touted entitlements has denied them benefits. Neither man has many.

Gary, who lives on $525 a month, has been turned down for treatment for post traumatic stress syndrome. Appeal after appeal has failed.

But unlike many other Vietnam veterans who died in service, he lived to see his medals. A friend, John Mallernee, finally lobbied in his behalf and caught the attention of authorities.

"It has been our honor to overcome the bureaucratic problems, oversight . . . to honor men who served with distinction," Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, said Wednesday, as he assisted in the presentation of medals he obtained for Salt Lake attorney James M. Richards, an artillery officer at Dong Ha - and to Gary Tolman, who thanked God, not the government, that he's alive.

The medals, like his debilitating disease, will likely be passed down from generation to generation. So will the anger, he believes.

"I wouldn't fight again. I wouldn't let my kids go to war," said Gary, gasping for breath. "Our government wouldn't take care of them."