Denise Balzano, Marilyn Quayle's chief of staff since Dan Quayle took office as vice president in January 1989, said yesterday she has asked Mrs. Quayle to begin looking for her successor although no date has been set for her departure.

"Both Quayles have been very supportive and urged me to take some time in deciding what I want to do next. The idea was to do this for a limited amount of time and then return to normal life," Balzano said yesterday. "Two years has been a perfect amount of time but things are up and running now. Marilyn has a great staff and she is involved in some exciting projects."

The two women became acquainted through their sons, Matt Balzano, 15, and Ben Quayle, 14, who met as pre-schoolers in McLean. In the years that followed, according to Balzano, "we were very much involved in personal, political and professional projects. And I expect that we'll continue to be involved as friends who share many interests."

Balzano worked on the Hill as a legislative assistant, at the Commerce Department as an international economist and at a Republican women's organization as executive director. She and her husband, Mike, have another son, Chris, 17.

Balzano said she is not aware that any decision has been made about who will succeed her. But others say the selection process is underway.

With a name like Cheney, it wasn't surprising that the talk was defense.

"I watch men like {generals} Colin Powell, Norman Schwarzkopf, Walter Boomer, Robert Johnson, Charles Horner -- and I think how lucky we are in this country," began this Cheney Friday night at the 18th annual Conservative Political Action Conference, where another speaker was Kuwaiti Ambassador Sheik Saud Nasir Sabah. "Somehow these fine people stayed with the military. Somehow they chose to make it their careers through all those long, grim years when the military was so often dismissed and demeaned in this country -- though not by conservatives, let me be clear."

Defense Secretary Dick Cheney should have been the speaker, but when President Bush sent him and Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Saudi Arabia last week, another Cheney -- his wife, Lynne V. Cheney, who is chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities -- agreed to pinch-hit.

Instead of 15 minutes, as she intended when she wrote her speech, her turn at the microphone lasted half an hour and was punctuated by a series of ovations for President Bush, his policies in the Persian Gulf, his predecessor Ronald Reagan, patriotism in general and the evening's absent honoree in particular.

"This is a time of heavy responsibility, and he feels that deeply. He also knows that it is an enormous honor to be given such responsibility, to be made the instrument of this nation's large and noble purposes," Cheney said of her husband, whose political future is already being charted by some stargazers as Secretary of State James Baker's successor, should Baker leave office.

And as might be expected from the nation's guru of the humanities, Chairman Cheney chose a quote from George Bernard Shaw to end on:

"This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. ... I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and, as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can."

The prize was a first, the recipient a natural. Few television events had struck such a chord among viewers as "The Civil War," the PBS series by Ken Burns. Accepting the $50,000 Lincoln Prize Saturday night at Gettysburg College, Burns told an audience of 200 that in seeing "the history of a country in the same sympathetic and personal way you see the life of a human being, then it is clear that the Civil War was the great traumatic event in the childhood of this nation."

Of the hundreds of letters Burns said he has received since the series aired last fall, none meant more than "a long, rambling letter, written in pencil and smudged in parts," from Ralph Ganis, a sergeant in the 18th Airborne Corps stationed in Saudi Arabia. Describing himself as the history-loving great-great-grandson of a Confederate soldier with the 43rd North Carolina Regiment, Ganis said he wanted to enrich the lives of others with the knowledge of their history and hoped someday to fulfill his own destiny "in working with preserving our heritage."

"Last Christmas I stood in Noriega's office," Ganis wrote Burns, adding, "his dress hat is one of my proud possessions. Now I'm in this desert, war may come soon, nothing is more incredible than being a witness to history."

Adding his own postscript Burns said Ganis reminded him of William Faulkner's "great message. 'History is not 'was,' but 'is.' "

Two books were finalists among the 42 competing Lincoln Prize entries: Warren Wilkinson's "Mother May You Never See the Sights I Have Seen: The 57th Massachusetts Veteran Volunteers in the Last Year of the Civil War" (Harper and Row), and Mark Neely Jr.'s "The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberty" (Oxford University Press).

Administered by the Lincoln and Soldiers Institute at Gettysburg College, the prize was founded last year by New York businessmen Lewis Lehrman and Richard Gilder Jr., both with longstanding interests in Lincoln and the Civil War.