Great moments in American history -- July 21, 1980.

Moments that even a well-laid bureaucratic plan couldn't smother.

Moments that the button lights on the Selective Service phone banks, all blinking the same way, just couldn't foretell. On the first day of registration for 20-year-olds, the almost-postponed program was on many people's minds:

"I want some information about registration," said a caller, born in 1958. Told he didn't have to register, he persisted. "Every place else I've moved I've had to register." The man, it turned out, wanted to register his car.

A 32-year-old woman inquired about her 19-year-old husband. Her mate was mature. She wanted to know if he had to sign up.

A preganat woman wanted to know whether her boyfriend would be exempted if he married her. She thought the extra incentive might help.

A sharpe lawyer called to ask whether his client could be released from jail in order to register. The service, he was informed, will gladly wait for his client's services.

Maybe a wise guy pal set that moving motorist up, but you couldn't blame an operator yesterday for routing "registration" calls to the people at 600 E St. NW, national headquarters of the Selective Service System. Registration signs were everywhere.

Seletive Service director Bernard Rostker and assistant director Brayton Harris, who carpool to work together, got their first taste of that as they walked past the F Street Post Office yesterday morning. During the night, someone had spray-painted "Screw the Draft" in big black letters to the right of the main entrance. Not long after, a few dozen anti-registration protesters showed up at the offices to present Harris with registration forms bearing the names of 50,000 Americans killed in the Vietnam War.The presentation proceeded politely. "The woman apologized because they didn't have time to fill them all out," Harris said.

Inside the seventh-floor offices where roughly 70 employes work, staffers sat at tables in a large conference room and supplemented 10 "code-a-phones" replaying recorded information for hundreds of uncertain young men and their families.

A young man, already in Canada, called. History was not rushing ahead of itself. He had applied for Canadian citizenship for unrelated reasons and wanted to know where he stood. With his peers, he was informed, until his new citizenship came through.

A mother worriedd about her son, stuck on an oil rig 200 miles from the nearest post office. The young man would probably be eligible for the 30-day grace period permitted to those with strong reasons for not being able to register on their assigned days -- just like the fellow earlier in the day who was out in the bush country of Alaska.

Someone tried to call collect from California.After a short conference, he was informed that if he wanted to reach out and touch the service he'd have to do it on his own money.

Those who paid got their answers quickly. Just the facts.

In the office, staffers make their feelings about the service known indirectly. One had a newspaper headline taped to the partition in front of his desk: "They Tried It and It Worked, So They Abandoned It, Of Course." Harris' bulletin board displayed recruitment posters circa World War I ("Gee!! I Wish I Were a Man -- I'd Join the Navy," says a woman in a first-class quartermaster's uniform) and the Civil War ("The Conscript Bill! How to Avoid It!!). The California caller might have quarreled with a poster that hangs over another staffer's desk, picturing a lion of healthy mane. "In Our Business," it reads, "The Customer Is King.