AFTER 12 YEARS of impressive service -- glowing efficiency reports, the Bronze Star and other awards for meritorious conduct and a war injury incurred in Vietnam -- Leonard Matlovich was dismissed by the Air Force in 1975. The dismissal had nothing to do with Sgt. Matlovich's distinguished military career, but occurred when he openly delcared his homosexuality. The Air Force contended that the decision was in line with its regulations that prohibit the retention of homosexual servicemen unless "the most unusual circumstances exist," noting that "meritorious service is not enough" to justify retention.

Now, after five years of battling in the courts, Leonard Matlovich has won an important victory: a federal judge has ordered him reinstated with full back pay. Given the record in this case, the decision is just and should be left to stand rather than appealed. But the ruling, by U.S. District Court Judge Gerhard A. Gesell, is not in itself any sweeping "bill of rights" for homosexuals in the Armed Forces; it merely strikes down an indefensibly vague police that the Air Force could neither explain nor clarify in court.

Judge Gesell noted that he had "repeatedly, insistently, repetitiously, pointedly" asked the Air Force to review its files and produce the standards by which it made decisions on retaining homosexuals. But the Air Force filed contradictory statement of its policy, leading the judge to conclude that the service had not complied with court requests.

For now, the Air Force and/or other branches of the service may still adopt clear standards for dismissing homosexuals from military service. But the military conduct and career of Leonard Matlovich make a strong case for some serious refinements of policy in the opposite directions.