ON FRIDAY we published a letter from a reader in Virginia in support of congressional efforts to alter the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Two bills are pending, a Senate proposal to add a new statue honoring nurses who served in the Vietnam War and a House measure that would direct the placing of an American flag in the center of the memorial wall. Aesthetic and artistic judgments are not relevant in the debate, argued our reader, for "the Mall is not an art gallery."

We are among those who oppose any further tinkering with the memorial. There are practical reasons -- why honor nurses, for example, and not American Indians or certain heroic units of the individual services? What precedent would be set for future statues, and how would each new addition affect the whole? The memorial already bears the names of all 58,156 fatalities of the war, including the eight women who were killed. And Congress, only two years ago, authorized the construction on unspecified federal land of a memorial to honor all women in the armed services. It is neither necessary nor sensible to change the Vietnam memorial for the purposes suggested.

But there are important esthetic considerations too, and they should not be brushed aside. The monument is a powerful and moving expression of the nation's respect for the men and women who died in Vietnam. It is a work of art, just as the Jefferson Memorial or the Daniel Chester French statue of Lincoln is. It was designed to evoke emotion and it does. It is insulting, even hokey,to contend that it needs a gigantic flagpoleand banner to call forth the proper patriotic feel-ings.

The Mall and especially the monuments belong to all the people of the nation, but the citizens of this area take a special pride in the beauty of the capital city and the spectacular design of its public spaces. Two separate review panels, the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission, have been charged with preserving this legacy, and both are opposed to additions to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial "regardless of their design, location or subject matter." The monument has been complete for six years and is magnificent the way it is. Congress should leave this work of art alone.