Even before Billy Rose won the national shorthand competition despite a broken hand, secretaries were playing hurt. Today, on the opening day of Professional Secretaries Week, we salute their indefatigable will and indispensable skill--whether under rocket attack in Vietnam, in the front lines of office politics or defending the pride of the White House with needle and thread.

They can spell, these secretaries. They're swell, these secretaries. And remember, if somebody doesn't give them a raise once in a while, they can raise hell, these secretaries.

For example:

Not long ago, a senior White House official was immersed in an interview with a reporter when the official's long-suffering secretary walked in. "You have 15 minutes to get to that lunch," she announced.

"Okay, okay," he said. "Just give me a few minutes."

She sighed, rolled her eyes, took five, then reappeared.

"The lunch," she said.

"Just a few minutes," he said.

Five more.

"The lunch," she said.

"A few minutes," he said.

The next time she appeared, she addressed the reporter. "If you want to know the real reason I'm giving him such a hard time, it's because he split his pants all the way down the back this morning and I have to sew him up before he speaks at the lunch."

The senior White House official blushed deeply. The reporter and secretary excused themselves from the room. The office door closed. A few moments later a hand emerged, offering up a pair of gray trousers. The split was enormous.

The secretary took the pants, began a few stitches, then stopped. Unable to resist, she peeked into the office. The sight was quite special.

The senior White House official had covered up with his raincoat, leaving two hairy legs, two dark socks, a sensible pair of shoes exposed. He stood at his desk and talked on the phone, no doubt conferring on grand matters of the globe.

The secretary did what any experienced secretary would have done under the circumstances. She burst into giggles.