As a combat-infantry master sergeant at age 21 in the "forgotten" Korean War, I found the article "Lessons in Patriotism from a Deserter," by Jay Mathews {Outlook, Jan. 17}, to be repugnant. I failed to learn any "lessons in patriotism" from the actions of a cowardly misfit named Keith Mather, who was lauded for his "innocent single-mindedness" in deciding to escape from an Army prison to Canada for 12 years. Mr. Mathews credits Mr. Mather and his type with getting "America out of Vietnam, not gracefully, but at least with enough national cohesion to attend to its other responsibilities."

Mr. Mathews stated that Mr. Mather "accepted a dishonorable discharge, which he was amused to find printed on yellow paper. Keith took it home to a cheering crowd of friends and relations. He framed it and put it on the wall of his den." Mr. Mathews noted, "I admired it when I came here to see him in his house overlooking the foggy, cold Pacific Ocean beaches just south of San Francisco."

I'm always amazed at the rationalization that noncombatants have for their roles in bringing peace to the world. Perhaps Jay Mathews and his buddy Keith Mather should visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and read the names of the 58,000 Americans who died answering their nation's call. A walk through Arlington Cemetery and a stop at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier might be beneficial to both. A review of the statistics of this country's war dead and wounded might help Mr. Mathews in his quest for journalistic patriotism. He obviously didn't learn much about war or patriotism in his air-conditioned office at Long Binh.

If it were not for the 58,000 who gave their lives in Vietnam or the 55,000 who gave their lives in Korea or the 100,000 plus from World Wars I and II, Mr. Mather wouldn't have his ocean-view house, nor would Mr. Mathews have his job. EDWARD T. BUCKHOUT Alexandria