A committed cadre of ex-Marines and Annapolis graduates converged on the Lincoln Memorial yesterday to launch a counterattack in the battle for Lt. Col. Oliver North's good name.

"We're here to support Ollie because he believes in the same things we do," said Rick Bayer, 1968 Annapolis graduate, now a candy and tobacco wholesaler from Pennsylvania. "Honor, duty, country. My country, may she always be right, but my country, right or wrong."

Bayer was one of five of North's former comrades who offered the media a barrage of impassioned testimonials as jets roared overhead and a trio of high school brass bands fired competing blasts of jazz from in front of the Reflecting Pool. It was the most conspicuous offensive yet in what H. Keith Haines II conceived asa nationwide campaign to reclaim a soldier's honor. Later in the day, three of them talked to reporters in a Crystal City hotel suite, and last night they were scheduled to hold a candlelight vigil at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

"We feel he is due honor instead of the ridicule he has received," Haines, an Orem, Utah, political consultant and self-appointed North booster-in-chief, said from the steps of the monument.

Haines, who knew North at the Naval Academy, mailed letters two weeks ago to hundreds of their classmates and to men who served with North in Vietnam in an effort to rally the brethren. Although a crush of cameras, reporters and bewildered tourists had his handful of volunteers badly outnumbered, the North supporters held the attention of an audience hungry for perspectives from the fired aide's past.

North's fan club filled the breach with stories of valor and compassion, many of which have already received wide currency. They portrayed North not as a hero or a zealot, but as "a hard-working dedicated Marine" who did his job.

They are not convinced that North has done all the things he is accused of doing in Iran and Central America. If the allegations are proven true, they will not fault him too severely. Nor are they especially eager to hear him tell his story.

"I would prefer Ollie's sins of commission to all of Congress' sins of omission," Haines said.

"Ollie is really being left out to dry by the administration," said Stan Ostazeski, a University of Maryland graduate student who received Marine training under North in Okinawa and has studiously watched the congressional hearings on television. "My opinion of him is not dented at all."

Bayer said he finds it implausible that North would have framed and implemented foreign policy without higher authority. "Someone told Oliver North {what} to do," said Bayer.

"You don't second-guess your superiors," said Bob Lewis, another classmate who now sells insurance in Silver Spring.

Bayer and Lewis felt a bond of loyalty to a classmate they knew mainly by reputation, but Randell Herrod was there to repay a debt.

Herrod, who served in North's platoon in Vietnam, was charged with complicity in a massacre of civilians in 1970, after North had left Vietnam. North rushed to his defense and helped him win acquittal, Herrod said. North spent 11 days gathering material for Herrod's lawyers and offering character testimony.

Yesterday, it was Herrod's turn.

"I've served with many soldiers who were good, but Ollie was fantastic. I would do anything and go anywhere that he decided to lead me," Herrod said of his former commanding officer.

And Haines? Why was he in Washington at his own expense, handing out "Thank you Ollie" bumper stickers and perspiring in the Washington sun?

"My specialty is making things happen. That's what I do," Haines said enigmatically.

The two took more than 15 classes together at Annapolis, but they were never close friends, Haines said. North didn't ask him to manage his public relations, and the two have spoken only once since the Iran-contra scandal enveloped North.

It was Haines who began soliciting contributions for North's legal defense back in December when it first appeared that he might need a lawyer. Since that time, the fund has taken in about $200,000, Haines said, although none of that money has been disbursed.

Haines estimates he has given more than 600 interviews over the past several months, spreading the Marine semper fi tradition and promoting his positive version of the Oliver North story.

When he learned of North's unceremonious exit from the White House, Haines recounted in his mass mailing to the Annapolis class, "I knew that if we did not get positive stories out he would be crucified and left swinging in the breeze."