William Branigin {May 17} suggests that, because there was initial confusion surrounding the circumstances of Benjamin Linder's murder in Nicaragua, perhaps the ''account'' the family tells -- that Ben was immobilized and then shot in the head at close range -- was just ''made up'' by the Sandinistas. It wasn't ''made up.'' I saw Ben's body within 16 hours of his death.

I am a licensed practical nurse and have been living and working in Nicaragua for 3 1/2 years in the same region that Ben Linder worked. When Ben's body was brought to Matagalpa after the autopsy, I and three other Americans received him. We dressed Ben for the wake. I dressed the top part of his body, changed his shirt, saw the wounds on his arms, the long incision made by the autopsy and the small marks on his face. I saw where his head had been sewn up. What struck me the most was the round powder burn on his right temple. I heard the doctor who was dressing the lower part of his body say that there were wounds on the back side of his legs, but I did not see them.

Later when I heard the results of the autopsy report, I again examined Ben's body. Again I saw the very dark, circular area on Ben's right temple with a bullet hole in the middle of it. There were no other significant wounds on Ben's body that could have caused death. There is no doubt that Ben was shot in the head at close range.

The other thing that Mr. Branigin says is that Ben ''had crossed a line dividing civilians from combatants'' and that Ben and ''four militiamen were armed.'' Aside from the fact that there are conflicting reports and it is not known whether Ben was in fact armed, it is important to understand the context here. In Nicaragua, many civilians -- men and women who are in no way connected to the armed forces -- have been given arms by the government for their own self-defense and for the defense of their homes, cooperatives, work places, etc. If there were any assurance that the contras would not attack unarmed civilians, then there would be a great protection in being unarmed, and no one would carry a weapon. However, the contras have a pattern of attacking civilians in their homes, at their work places and on the roads. They attack when no one is armed and when no one is wearing a military uniform. With a record like that, many Nicaraguans and a few foreigners have opted to carry a weapon to defend themselves.

The contras are terrorists, and our government is funding, training and arming them. It is up to us, the American people, to get our government back on the right track.

MARY RISACHER Matagalpa, Nicaragua