Last week's Defense Department decision to give veteran's status and benefits to civilian merchant seamen who served during World War II has pleased the thousands of survivors of the often tedious, often dangerous voyages.

But any time the government extends a benefit to a new group, it raises hackles from some quarters.

Today's leadoff letter to the Monday Morning Quarterback is from a former sailor who wonders whether some of the merchant seamen's benefits will now be extended to his former shipmates:

I note with interest . . . that a federal judge's ruling will require the Defense Department to grant veteran's status to those who were in the merchant marine during World War II.

I was overseas with the U.S. Navy during that war and came to admire the men who manned the merchant ships. They did a splendid job, on the whole.

I would, however, now expect the same federal judge to order Navy veterans eligible for the blessings that were found on the merchant ships.

Benefits such as the eight-hour day, with overtime, double-time and triple-time payments would be nice. So would the bonuses that were paid for "hazardous" duty in a combat zone; plus just union-rate compensation for those extended leaves the merchantmen took between trips.

Once a week, the Navy served beans for breakfast, while our compatriots on the merchant ships chose their fare from a menu and were given table service by union waiters. The Navy went through the chow line and ate off metal trays.

Euclid once told us that "things equal to the same thing are equal to each other," but what did he know? He wasn't even a federal judge, playing God with taxpayers' money.

One final recommendation: The money to provide the Navy's sailors with "equal pay for equal service" shouldn't have to come from the taxpayers. Let it come instead from the salary of the federal judge who handed down this ruling. Then, and only then, would he be likely to learn port from starboard, the forecastle from the stern, or the difference between civilian sailors and those bound by oath to obey all commands of the U.S. Navy. W.T.S., Alexandria

I realize this reply to the Jan. 11 letter from "Tired Taxpayer" concerning the half day off federal employees received Christmas Eve is a little late. However, I was out of town.

I was one of those "whining federal employees" for 35 years, and I wholeheartedly agree with "Tired Taxpayer" that the country would be a lot better off if most of the government workers never went to work.

Why, just think of all the taxpayers' money that could be saved! I'm not talking about the billions in employees' salaries that would be saved. I'm referring to the hundreds of billions of dollars those federal employees shovel out like so much confetti.

In one way or the other this is the only reason from 80 percent to 90 percent of federal jobs exist.

There are very darn few industries, from apple growers in Washington state to zoo keepers in Florida, and from apiarists in Maine to zombie mixers in Hawaii, who do not have their hands out for these handouts, either directly or indirectly.

"Tired Taxpayer" probably got that way from working overtime filling out the required forms to get his cut from Uncle Sam. A.E.D., Franconia