A few days ago, I wrote about Very Important Persons, among them J. William Middendorf, Richard Nixon's secretary of the Navy.

Middendorf and other VIPs had spent thousands of dollars to have gasoline storage tanks buried under their lawns. Middendorf's had a capacity of 4,000 gallons and was described as being "enough to supply the average American car with gasoline for more than seven years."

The column moved many readers to comment. Almost half expressed agreement.Almost half thought the column was "too easy" on Middendorf. And a few letters were from people who said, in effect, "Hey, you're talking about me, too, and I'm no hoarder."

John Richter of Hollywood, Md., put it this way: "Today you elevated me to VIP status, but I cant's decide whether it became effective in 1962, when I buried a 550-gallon heating oil tank for my house, or in 1974, after the oil embargo, when I buried an identical tank for gasoline in order to keep the mobility I need to live 10 miles from town.

"No, I am not a farmer, just a VIP hoarder who aslo is two cords of wood ahead of my woodstove and who drives a car which gets more than 30 miles per gallon of gas.

"For the life of me, I can't find sin in running ahead of the game on 'full' as opposed to using gas running on 'empty' looking for a short line."

Fair-minded people have little difficulty in drawing the line between hoarding and planning ahead, John. If you filled your gas tank while supplies were plentiful, I would describe your action as foresighted rather than hoarding.

I, too, prefer to run on "full" rather than "empty." Ever since I was first married, I have kept a small inventory of items we use constantly: soap, detergent, paper towels, paper napkins, laundry supplies, facial tissues, cotton swabs, razor blades, had lotion, mouthwash, toothpaste, aspirin, cold remedies - all sorts of items. It is a waste of time, effort and gasoline to run off to the store every time you empty a box of tissues.

At first, my bride made fun of my inventory and called my supply closet "Bill's Drug Store." But it didn't take her long to see the wisdom of avoiding a hand-to-mouth policy. She was soon using my principle to keep her freezer well stocked.

I agree with John that there is no sin in building up a reasonable reserve during good times, when no shortage exists. That's just old-fashioned prudence, not hoarding.

Hoarding occurs when people fail to put aside a reserve in good times and then try to buy up an unconscionable quantity of an item during a period of shortage. Example: During normal times, razor blade manufacturers have unlimited supplies. They dearly love customers who can afford to keep a few packages of blades in reserve. But during World War II, razor blades were suddenly in short supply. Anybody who attempted to buy up a large quantity of them at that time was a hoarder. The distinction seems too obvious to require much discussion.