West Palm Beach, Fla., housewife Diane Letender and her three children arrived at the Lincoln Memorial this week expecting to hear a recorded voice describe Washington's most popular tourist site.

Instead, they met the memorial's Answer Man -- soft-spoken Michael Moreno, a 28-year-old park ranger who specializes in Lincolniana, lost children and elevator snafus.

"I see my job as being an ambassador," said Moreno, a five-year member of the National Park Service. "I hope people I talk to will go home and remember good things about Washington."

Moreno, the memorial's head ranger, and two other rangers under his supervision, see an average of 10,000 tourists on each of their eight-hour shifts in the summer. And at $15,000 a year -- about $60 a day -- Moreno is not only one of the federal government's most helpful employes, he's a bargain.

With arms folded across his chest, Moreno scans the swirl of visitors who for the most part seem intent on gawking at the statue, snapping a picture of the family at the base and rushing off to yet another of the city's memorials. He is watching for the ones who pause with real interest, the ones who may have a question.

"Was this built with Vermont marble?" Letender asked.

"No, it's Tennessee and Alabama marble," Moreno said. "If you want to see Vermont marble, you'll have to go to the Jefferson Memorial."

"How long did it take to build it?" 8-year-old Michael Letender wanted to know.

"They broke ground in 1914 and dedicated it in 1922," Moreno answered, touching the boy gently on the shoulder.

Then he took the family to see the Gettysburg Address inscribed on one wall and Lincoln's second inaugural address on the other.

For Moreno, the questions are a challenge. "If they stump me, I check our files. If we don't have the answer, I go home at night and check my books so I'll be ready the next time," he said.

Moreno said he once had to research a question concerning the mental health of Mary Todd Lincoln following the assassination of her husband.

"They wanted to know if she was committed to an institution," he said. "The answer is no."

He also gets asked regularly about the misspelled word in the inaugural address.

"I think they're people answering quiz questions," he said. "I tell them to read it through and if they can't find it, I'll show them."

(The word is "future," which is spelled "euture.")

Moreno also prides himself on giving detailed directions to other tourist sites, subway stops and hotels. He jiggers with the elevator when it breaks down ("mostly every day"), loads film for mystified novice photographers and reunites lost children and worried parents.

He also dispenses bandages for blistered feet and offers first aid to those who faint from heat exhaustion or fall on the memorial's steep steps.

This summer's hot weather, including a string of 90-plus days in July and August, has created a special problem at the memorial because the white marble of the steps and plaza seems to intensify the heat. Moreno said he treats at least two persons a day for heat exhaustion when the temperature is high.

He is also the rescuer of pigeons with broken wings and lost ducklings.

"Someone is always coming up and saying there's something wrong with a bird, or a duck in the reflecting pond has lost its mother," he said. "So I go out and take a look and here'll be this injured bird. You have to be very careful how you handle them because everybody is watching."

Moreno is one of about 65 full-time rangers who work at the national parks in the city, according to Park Service spokeswoman Sandra Alley.

"We have a great crop of rangers," she said. "But Mike is probably one of the best ones. I remember when the president spoke on July 3rd at the Jefferson Memorial, {Moreno} was asked to help out. It was hot as blazes and everybody was wilted. But not Mike. He treated people who got ill, picked up trash and just took care of everything.

"He truly loves his job."