Under a grim sky yesterday morning, nearly 400 people wearing little blue-and-white ribbons swarmed around the spectacular equestrian statue of Argentina's greatest revolutionary hero, the liberator general Jose de San Martin.

Usually, Washington's Argentinians celebrate their National Day big: party, reception, Latin gaiety, the national colors of blue and white everywhere. This year, with a war going on, they just laid a couple of wreaths at the feet of San Martin, who crossed the Andes in 1817 to begin a campaign that drove the Spanish from his homeland.

Walking solemnly between two facing rows of officers, dressed in summer whites, at the site between Virginia Avenue and 20th Street NW, Ambassador Esteban Takacs and Raul Quijano, Argentina's ambassador to the Organization of American States, and the military attache's brought one wreath to the statue. Garcia Godoy, president of the Sociedad Sanmartiniana de Washington, presented the other.

Then the audience broke into the Argentine anthem, gathering strength by the second verse. One gray-haired woman in particular sang with passion, head back, tears streaming.

There were no speeches, but a mimeographed sheet was passed around citing the case of Diego Garcia, a British island colony in the Indian Ocean whose population, it reported, was summarily evacuated in the '60s. It contrasted Argentina's offers to the "islanders of the Malvinas" (who are called kelpers): cash compensation; a land purchase program; options for Argentine citizenship. "Most kelpers cannot own land, because it can only be purchased by British subjects, which most kelpers are not," it charged.

People stood around and talked after the ceremony. No, some of them said when asked, they hadn't felt any hostility from Americans as a result of the Falklands war. They seemed surprised at the idea. But they greeted each other with the special eager warmth of people far from home.