I just returned from a trip to California and, while catching up on back issues of The Post, my attention was caught by Phil McCombs's story "Getting Ready to Deliver the Saddest Tidings" {Style, Jan. 21}.

Like Air Force Maj. Kathi Blevins, I was once a "Casualty Notification Officer." Having been assigned that duty upon my return from the Vietnam War in 1967, while stationed at the Marine Air Detachment at Andrews Air Force Base, I know well the anxiety facing her and others who may be assigned this highly emotional and distressing duty.

My best advice to Maj. Blevins is to read the pamphlet she was given and then forget it, and rely on good old common sense and human instinct. No training can prepare anyone for this duty. No two cases will be exactly alike. Forget the "no touching" rule because I can assure her she will be touched. I experienced everything from women collapsing in my arms to being slapped by a distant relative who blamed me for the death. I experienced the emotions of love and tenderness from the families to the other extreme, where a newly widowed wife greeted me with, "I guess you're here because he's dead. Do I get his insurance?"

In short the major should use her instincts, and go about it the same as she would if she were calling on a neighbor or friend who had lost a loved one or had one seriously injured. What helped me immensely was just being back from Vietnam and being able to answer their questions and identify areas where their loved ones served.

Maj. Blevins might ask a local clergy member to go with her, or someone the family knows and trusts who can stay behind to lend further comfort and assistance. She should avoid "canned" speeches such those mentioned in the article and speak from the heart. It's a tough job but it means everything to that family, and they will remember every word she said. God bless the military for using this personal notification system; it sure beats the old World War II telegrams that started: "We regret to inform you . . . "

These are the moms, dads, brothers, sisters, wives, relatives and friends of our fighting men and women, and they deserve nothing but caring, careful consideration. Unfortunately, it doesn't get any easier with experience. Each call is worse than the one before it. GERALD F. MERNA Alexandria