Dennis C. Abramczyk, a sergeant in the Marine Corps, sat with his mother, father and wife in the dimly lit Globe and Laurel tavern just outside Quantico Thursday night and debated a possible confrontation with Iran in the Persian Gulf.

"What I don't understand is that you're almost looking forward" to fighting in the Middle East, Lois Abramczyk said to her 33-year-old son. She continued to look him in the eye, but shifted to the third person. "He says he wants to go," she said. "I don't understand why he would volunteer, but he would."

The Marine's wife, Merrie Jo, nodded in agreement.

His mother sighed, but Dennis Abramczyk has been a Marine for 15 years. "I have never been able to explain," he said. "It's just something you feel you have to do."

Lois Abramczyk, 56, visiting from St. Louis, continued: "I don't understand. I told him the other night that I didn't think we should be there {in the Persian Gulf}. I think it's another one of Washington's foulups."

The Navy's mounting presence in the Persian Gulf and the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's vow to take revenge on the United States for the recent deaths of hundreds of Iranian pilgrims who clashed with Saudi police in Mecca could, some fear, result in the Marines being committed again to war.

The Quantico Marine Corps base, home to 6,000 to 8,000 Marines, straddles the Prince William-Stafford county line about a 45-minute drive south of Washington.

Marine Corps public affairs officials declined to permit interviews on base about the Persian Gulf situation and the feelings about it of those who are stationed there. Those who agreed to be interviewed -- and many declined -- stressed that they were speaking for themselves.

Cpls. Richard Houston, 22, and Gregory Strickland, 20, relaxed recently in Quantico's Command Post Pub in the company of other Marines, with music, cold beer and Tom Brokaw's account of the growing tensions on NBC television.

"I don't think any man wants to die," Houston said.

Strickland interrupted: "But there are things like principles. Die for my country? If it is absolutely necessary, I will do it." When one enlists in the Marines, he said, "they explain there is a very good chance that you could give your life for your country. Anybody who dies in this Marine Corps has signed to do so."

"I think the Iranians are fanatical enough to try something," said Sgt. Richard Luke, who was sharing a table at the pub with Sgts. Michael Cook and James Canup. "I don't presume to know how they think, but the ayatollah considers it nothing to send young men and kids to battle."

According to Luke, "The consensus of most Marines would be, 'Bring them on and we'll take care of them.' But it's easy to talk about. No one knows how they will feel when they get out there."

Few Marines like to sit around and wait for things to happen, said Cook, 32, of Talladega, Ala. "We're taught to make things happen."

The difficulty in dealing with situations that arise in the gulf and the Middle East, he said, is that "sons, husbands, wives and families don't know what will happen."

If violence does erupt, "I'm prepared to do my job," said Luke, 32, of Eatonton, Ga.

"We're here to protect the democracy," said Cook. "We don't question things. We have a job to do and that's what we do."

Canup, 29, of Winder, Ga., said that when he talks about the Middle East, "The biggest thing that comes to my mind is pain, what happened in Beirut. We lost brothers . . . . The American people sometimes thinks about us as a job. They don't necessarily think of us as a community. You hurt one of us, you hurt all of us. When I heard about Beirut . . . I cried like a baby."

On Oct. 23, 1983, a terrorist drove an explosives-laden truck into the Marine barracks at the Beirut airport; 241 American servicemen, most of whom were sleeping at the time, died.

Some Marines would like to give some "pay"The consensus of most Marines would be, 'Bring them on and we'll take care of them.' But it's easy to talk about. No one knows how they will feel when they get out there."

-- Sgt. Richard Luke

back for what happened to our comrades," Luke said.

But Cook disagreed, saying, "It's not vengeance, but let's show what we can do when we are awake."

The owner of the Globe and Laurel, retired Marine Corps Maj. Richard T. Spooner, said he is glad the United States is taking a stand for "right and freedom" with its show of force in the Persian Gulf.

"The Iranians aren't going to sink the U.S. Navy out there," said Spooner, 61, who still wears a military haircut. "We're calling the Iranians' bluff. If they try to sink us, we'll blow them out of the water. But we're hoping the Iranians will come to their senses."

The zeal that Marines display in regard to fighting and perhaps dying for their country should not be confused with love of war, said Spooner, a decorated veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

"We hate war," said Spooner. He said he can remember being on battlefields and looking at "what three or four seconds ago was a squad of men -- men that you worked with and were friends with. Then three or four seconds later they are a bunch of broken bodies. The impact is hard to describe."

As Spooner spoke, a group of five entered his restaurant: a Marine, his pregnant wife and their year-old son, and his wife's sister and brother-in-law, Angie and Patrick Barill, who were visiting from Texas. The Marine and his wife declined to give their names.

"I think about {war with Iran} all the time, everytime I hear something on the radio," said Angie Barill. "But we are all hoping it won't come to that."

"Everybody I know, they are all military," said the Marine's wife. "We all worry about our husbands. I have a friend whose husband went over there {to the Persian Gulf} and she is really upset."

The situation in the Middle East causes his family to worry, too, said Houston, who is from Mississippi. "I call {home} and say 'I'm all right. I am here.' They know I am okay because they can hear my voice."

Cook has two children -- Natoshia, 8, and April, 5 -- with another on the way. "The 8-year-old, she can read," he said. "She really doesn't understand death. But she does understand loss. She always says 'Please come back.' "

Canup also has two children, Whitney, 3, and Alanna, 1. "My wife knows how much I love my country," he said. "She's a military wife. When I signed the contract, she realized that I might have to give my life for my country."