I believe that my recent comments to the Defense Writers Group in response to a specific question about the "moral fiber" of American youth were far more comprehensive and complete than George Wilson reported in his June 26 article, "Top Marine Sees Loss of Moral Fiber." Be that as it may, one comment he did report on demands clarification and elaboration, and that is my personal views on the subject of the working mother.

First and foremost, let me be clear and unequivocal: I firmly believe that the responsibility for the physical, moral and spiritual upbringing of children belongs to the parents and, as I have always been taught, responsibility cannot be delegated. With that said, let me fully sympathize with and support the widowed or divorced mother who, more often than not, has little or no choice but to work. An example: when my mother became a "Gold Star Wife" during World War II, her widow's pension from a "grateful nation" was a mere $75 a month. Needless to say, she was required to work just to put bread in the mouths of three children at home.

In the case of married couples, both the mother and father must make a personal determination as to whether both will work, a determination based on their own unique circumstances and desires. Again, all too often there is little or no choice. Among the main considerations that both married and single parents must make when a parent does not remain at home during the day is: what alternative arrangements are available for the daily care of their children? In this regard, the "haves" can usually make far more satisfactory arrangements than the "have nots," and this is one of my concerns. Let me pause here with a declarative statement: I am not opposed to working married mothers -- or fathers, for that matter -- provided that both continue to accept total responsibility for and participate in the physical, moral and spiritual upbringing of their children.

Now, let me crow for a moment. The public record clearly shows the enormous expenditure of my time and energy during four years as commandant of the Marine Corps in the improvement of family life for the young men and women under me -- and this included significant efforts toward the improvement, both qualitative and quantitative, of our Marine Corps Child Care Centers. It is an unfortunate fact of life that the compensation provided to our young Marines does not always allow an acceptable standard of living in many geographic areas without a second family income. Accepting this reality, together with the fact that we have a number of wives who have chosen their own careers, it was my obligation to provide a wholesome and healthy alternative for the daily care of their children -- and this I did -- but in each instance our Child Care Centers are under the close, constant supervision of a caring and concerned chain of command. My gripe is not with well-run and -regulated child care centers, but more with the poor-to-unacceptable centers that are the only option for too many in our lower-income groups.

Unfortunately, during all the shouting we seem to have ignored the central question. Do we have a problem with a decline in the moral fiber of American youth? If the answer is no, then forget it -- I am wrong! If the answer is yes, however, then bashing P. X. Kelley for being the messenger may make some feel better, but it isn't going to make the problem disappear.

I submit that we do have a problem, and let me give you a few facts. Before doing so, let me provide a quotation from Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah: "Children are precious, yet vulnerable -- especially to the exploitation of the drug market. There's no stronger force in the protection of our children than our parents."

Now the facts:

1. In 1986, 58 percent of all high school seniors had used illicit drugs at one time or another.

2. From 1983 to 1986, the number of high school seniors dependent on cocaine doubled. We now have over 25,000.

3. In 1986, nearly two-thirds of all high school seniors reported using alcohol during the past 30 days, and 37 percent reported having five drinks or more in a row at least once during the past two weeks.

4. In 1986, one in 20 high school seniors said they drank daily.

5. The age of "first use" of illicit drugs and alcohol is dropping. Currently, about one in six 13-year-olds has used at least marijuana.

I have chosen illicit drug use and alcohol abuse to highlight the fact that there is a problem. Ironically, research shows that illicit drug use among children is 10 times more prevalent than parents suspect. I could have used other standards of measurement, but I believe I have made my point. With that said, what are we going to do about it?

What I suggested to the Defense Writers Group was to bring together a number of the brightest minds in the country in a forum -- an institute which, for lack of a better term, I will call "The Institute of Traditional Values for Young Americans." Here, in an academic environment, we could examine the subject of "Morality and American Youth" and, one hopes, determine meaningful solutions where and when appropriate. Interestingly enough, one of the first subjects I would propose would be that of improving the availability of child-care centers for lower-income groups.

Now is the time for positive action. I ask all Americans to join me in an effort to shore up for our future generations the traditional values of love of God, love of country, love of family and love of fellow human beings. Is this too much to ask? Our parents did it for us. Gen. Kelley, now retired, was commandant of the Marine Corps. "I ask all Americans to join me in an effort to shore up for our future generations the traditional values." ,1 Taking Exception