On Inauguration Day, I offered a brief defense of the fancy dress code that had been decreed for the event. In the course of these comments, I suggested:

"So let us put on our fanciest duds and our soberest faces and give heed as the 39th man to hold the office places his left hand on a Bible. . ."

Letters began coming in the very next day. Most of them took a gentle tack, e.g.: "It's not like you to make such a careless mistake. Mr. Reagan will be the 40th president, not the 39th."

If we can agree that George Washington was the first president, let us count together, (2) John Adams, (3) Thomas Jefferson, (4) James Madison, (5) James Monroe, (6) John Quincy Adams, (7) Andrew Jackson, (8) Martin Van Buren, (9) William Henry Harrison, (10) John Tyler, (11) James K. Polk, (12) Zachary Taylor, (13) Millard Fillmore, (14) Franklin Pierce, (15) James Buchanan, (16) Abraham Lincoln, (17) Andrew Johnson, (18) Ulsysses S. Grant, (19) Rutherford B. Hayes, (20) James A. Garfield, (21) Chester A. Arthur (22) Grover Cleveland, (23) Benjamin Harrison, (24) William McKinley, (25) Theodore Roosevelt, (26) William Howard Taft, (27) Woodrow Wilson, (28) Warren G. Harding, (29) Calvin Coolide, (30) Herbert Hoover, (31) Franklin D. Roosevelt, (32) Harry S. Truman, (33) Dwight D. Eisenhower, (34) John F. Kennedy, (35) Lyndon B. Johnson, (36) Richard M. Nixon, (37) Gerald R. Ford, (38) Jimmy Carter. Did I leave somebody out? As I tally it Ronald Reagan became the 39th man to hold the office.

Of course, if you want to count Grover Cleveland twice (both as the 22d and 24th president) because he was elected to nonconsecutive terms, that's all right with me. For all I care, you can count FDR twice, too, on the grounds that he was elected to twice as many terms as anybody else.

But to avoid the controversy over whether Cleveland should be counted twice, I chose to use the wording "the 39th man to hold the office." Unless you can think of a president I left off my list, I will stand by that wording. POSTCRIPT

Harold Stassen doesn't count. He didn't quite make it. YES SIR, MR. PRESIDENT

Many local firms figured they'd do little business on Inaugural Day, so they closed down to take inventory.

When President Reagan began his inaugural address, a few employees at Woodward & Lothrop's main store slipped away from their counting duties and gathered around a set that was turned on in the TV department.

When the watchers burst out laughing, nonwatchers who had remained at their chores wondered what the new president had said that was so funny. The watchers explained, "He says we should take inventory of what we have."

I guess you had to be there to appreciate the humor. RELGIOUS NEWS

I am incensed to learn what those Iranian "students" did to our diplomatic personnel during the 444 days they held our people hostage.

We must view their barbaric conduct in context. We have no documents to prove that the "students" acted at the behest of The Beard. All we know is that the attack on our embassy took place at a time in which anybody in Iran who incurred the disfavor of The Beard was shot forthwith and then given a fair trial.

The "students" (I choke on the word) said repeatedly that they would obey The Beard's orders, but he never lifted a finger to get the hostages released or to chastise the terrorists for violating international law by imprisoning diplomatic personnel. The Beard issued no orders except those one can infer from a 444-day continuation of an outrage that was marked by cruel and barbarous conduct. Once again, as has happened so often in the past, unwarranted violence was inflicted upon innocent victims in the name of religion -- the worship of God.

I am shocked by such conduct because I have read much about Islam and have formed the opinion that its religion teaches respect for truth and personal integrity. It does not teach cruelty, treachery, or disregard for contracts, agreements or covenants.

So I am left to wonder how The Beard and his followers reconcile their cruelty to our people with the teachings they profess to respect.

What were those students studying -- Attila the Hun?