On accepting the United Service Organization's Distinguished American Award, Nancy Reagan gazed at her star-studded audience of Californians and quoted Oliver Wendell Holmes: "Where we love -- is home; home our feet may leave, but not our hearts."

Mrs. Reagan was being honored Thursday night by the USO for her crusade against drug abuse. But the more than 900 dinner guests seemed to be honoring the first lady mostly for just being Nancy. "Our praise and thanks to You," Lloyd Ogilvie of Hollywood Presbyterian Church said in his invocation, "that You have given her to us as one of the great leaders of our time."

For the black-tie dinner, held in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel's ballroom, Reagan friends turned out in force.

Robert Stack, Danny Thomas, Buddy Ebsen, George Peppard, Fess Parker, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and their wives all got polite applause from the crowd when they stood to be introduced. But for Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, the crowd oohed and aahed. They oohed and aahed for Ginger Rogers' introduction, too, but it turned out she wasn't there. Also in the crowd, but not introduced, were first friend Betsy Bloomingdale and presidential son Michael Reagan and his wife Colleen.

Nancy Reagan wore a full-length, long-sleeved silver lame' dress. Bob Hope's wife Dolores wore white chiffon and diamonds. Rep. Bobbi Fiedler (R-Calif.) wore purple silk and pearls. And CBS White House correspondent Lesley Stahl wore a brand-new long white gown.

Stahl said Mrs. Reagan's press secretary "said to me, 'You know, it's formal. You'll have to dress.' And I said, 'Well, I have this little black suit.' She said, 'No, no.' So I walked across the street to Bonwit's and got this."

Dolores Hope, a past recipient of the USO award, presented Mrs. Reagan with a crystal eagle's head, saying, "The USO and Nancy Reagan are both symbols of what this great country is all about: dedication, service, heart and love."

Accepting her award, Mrs. Reagan praised the USO. "It eases the loneliness our military people sometimes feel and, in a way, helps them remember why they wear a uniform." The first lady, whose work to combat teen-age drug abuse has included an appearance on NBC's "Diff'rent Strokes" and the narration of a PBS special, "The Chemical People," told the audience that her crusade has led her to "see loneliness from a different perspective."

"From traveling and talking to young people all over the country," she said, "I've learned that one reason they turn to drugs is the need to belong. Drugs somehow seem to ease the alienation and isolation . . . It should come as no surprise to you that young people in the military sometimes feel alienated and they sometimes turn to drugs." Mrs. Reagan thanked the USO for "providing a place to belong that helps ease that sense of isolation."

The USO, created to entertain lonely servicemen, went all out to entertain Nancy Reagan. An all-service color guard presented flags as the band played "The Stars and Stripes Forever," and waiters marched dessert trays, adorned with small American flags, into the room with other Sousa marches playing. Tony Martin sang "Begin the Beguine," and "The Best of Times Is Now" from the hit show "La Cage aux Folles," and Bob Hope told jokes.

Hope, who arrived after stopping by the People's Choice Awards to pick up an honor there, said he had just recovered from laryngitis, which he gets "every time the writers go out on strike." And he indeed seemed short on material when his first joke about a Democrat fell flat with the heavily Republican audience.

In reference to the pickup truck the Reagans recently gave each other to use at their Santa Barbara ranch, Hope said, "I knew Nancy was here when I saw a pickup truck being valet-parked." Medium laughter. "They nicknamed the truck Teddy. It gets great mileage, but you never know if it'll run." Murmurings from the crowd where Hope had expected laughter. So, in deadpan, Johnny Carson style, he repeated the joke, as though the crowd hadn't heard it the first time. It played no better.

But Hope did get a lot of laughs with his jab at a more recent Democratic presidential candidate: "Remember back during the campaign, when Mondale said there was no place for God in politics?" A pause. "Well, apparently, God felt the same way about Mondale."

And in reference to Mondale's running mate, Hope turned to the first lady and said, 'Just think, Nancy. Just four more years and you'll be out of politics. And then you'll be able to make a Pepsi commercial."