"The Vietnam veteran doesn't really want anything special," said John McCain, the Navy's Senate liaison officer and once a prisoner in North Vietnam. "Just someone to shake his hand, pat him on the back, tell him thanks."

Whatever Vietnam veterans want, they're now that much closer, at least, to getting a memorial.

Yesterday, at a reception in the Senate Caucus Room, Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) and Sen. Charles Mathias (R-Md.) honored the members of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund who helped pass S.J. Res. 119, a Senate resolution authorizing the establishment of a memorial to all Americans who served in the war. It will be built on two acres near the Lincoln Memorial.

Jan C. Scruggs, an equal-opportunity specialist with the Labor Department, got the idea off the ground last year, incorporating the fund as a "single-purpose project" to obtain a memorial and writing newspaper articles to publicize it. Executive Director Robert Doubek, the fund's only full-time salaried employe, hopes that such a memorial "will have the effect of focusing on more practical needs of Vietnam veterans also."

Max Cleland, director of the Veterans Administration, gave the two men all credit for pushing the project so far, calling it an unparallelled "citizen's effort." Shortly afterward, Mathias announced to the more than 100 guests that the last signature on the conferees' bill concerning the memorial had been obtained. He said the event "marked the reconciliation" of the American people in regard to the war.

Despite a roll call vote on the Senate floor, no one hurried Scruggs as he gave thanks to early supporters of the project, such as Warner and Texas businessman H. Ross Perot. Last year, he remarked, a television news show had reported that the fund had raised only $144. That figure, he happily reported, now "approached" a quarter of a million dollars, though he estimated that even the latter figure amounted to only a tenth of what would eventually be needed. Moved by Sen. Dale Bumpers' reference to the "99 co-sponsors" of the bill, Scruggs concluded simply: "A lot of us lost a lot of good friends."