I was profoundly touched by David Maraniss's story about Buffalo Soldiers {Magazine, Jan. 20}, and I hope Jesse L. Jackson and others who have criticized the large of number of black service men and women in the Persian Gulf also have read this article.

Since the beginning of the Revolutionary War, even when most blacks were still slaves, black men have clamored for the opportunity to join their country's military. Surprisingly, four regiments composed of black enlisted men -- the 24th and 25th infantries and the 9th and 10th cavalries -- were formed as part of the Regular Army shortly after the Civil War. I served with several Buffalo Soldiers during World War II. Most of those whom I knew had been commissioned officers, and some were so effective that they retired at the rank of colonel.

After full racial integration of the military in the 1950s, black men and women became even more interested in the service, for it offered a better pathway to a career and/or an education. This opportunity attracted so many young black people that they now form a larger proportion of the armed services than black people constitute of the general population.

I wish to ask Mr. Jackson whether he is demanding that a limit be placed on the number of black people who are permitted to enter military service. As a black man who spent 22 years in the military before retiring as an Air Force colonel, I strongly maintain that neither Jesse L. Jackson nor anyone else has the right make a decision about how another person exercises his rights as a citizen. THOMAS B. SMITH Reston