We approach Veteran's Day 1987 with a significant, unresolved question regarding this nation's willingness to honor all its veterans: whether to expand the existing Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington to include a statue of a woman to represent the many thousands of women who served so nobly in that conflict.

My support for this proposal, and my positive recommendation to the Commission of Fine Arts, is based on my belief that American women made outstanding contributions during the Vietnam War and that this statue is a most appropriate way to remember and to honor their participation.

This proposal has widespread support across America, including many veterans' organizations. Under the regulations that pertain to the modification of existing national memorials, the expansion -- which would be in the form of a statue of a woman placed to the east of the statue of the three soldiers -- must be approved by the Commission of fine Arts, the National Capital Planning Commission and the secretary of the interior. The Commission of Fine Arts recently voted against it. Unfortunately, there is no indication that the commission is interested in reviewing or reconsidering its action in the immediate future.

I was the under secretary of the interior at the time of the lengthy debate on the original Vietnam Memorial and am well aware that, when it comes to public monuments commemorating major events, there always are contentious and competing points of view. The debate preceding the negative vote by the Commission of Fine Arts is a case in point.

I am not an expert in the design or aesthetics of outdoor monuments; I therefore consulted those who are before making my final decision. William Penn Mott Jr., director of the National Park Service, provided me with advice that was both clear and unequivocal: the statue of a woman could be added to the Vietnam Memorial without impairing the integrity of the memorial. In fact, it would provide an overall balance. That conclusion was reached after extensive consultation with veterans and other interested groups, whose support for the concept of a statue representing women's contributions is overwhelming.

The proposal to balance the memorial with a commemoration of the effort of the women who served in Vietnam is sponsored by the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project, Inc., a volunteer group that has worked for several years to build support for this idea. The project also would lead the private, national fund-raising campaign which would fund the statue and the costs of placing it in the memorial. Financial support for the implementation of this noble idea should come not from the U.S. Treasury, but from individual citizens supporting an idea that has stirred the hearts of so many of us.

My recommendation is only one of three that affect this issue. The negative vote of the Commission of Fine Arts has brought the decision-making process to a halt, at least for the time being. Despite that decision, I shall continue to support the addition of the statue of a woman to the Vietnam Memorial, one representing all of the brave women who served in that conflict and whose contributions and sacrifices made them an integral part of that heroic effort.

Donald Hodel is secretary of the interior.