When he was nominated, Walters' reference to "All America honors" in his Pentagon resume led the press, veterans groups and Congress to describe him as an All-American fullback, who played on West Point's undefeated "Lonely End" football team in 1959. But the military academy's records show only three players who made the All-American first team that year -- none by the name of Walters. By way of explanation, Walters said sports writers included him in the "honorable mention" category that year.

The length of Walters' military service also has been questioned since Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C) blistered him last year for serving only four years after receiving a free education at West Point. Actually, Walters served only 3 1/2 years, an aide said yesterday, but that was six months longer than West Point graduates had to at the time. Walters also will be the first VA chief to never have served in combat, the agency said. "It is evident that I will never feel, personally, the emotions that millions of our combat veterans experience, nor the pain and anguish they suffered," said Walters. But, he added, he can relate to combat veterans because "many of my close friends have shared with me the horrors of combat and I have seen in their faces and on their torn bodies the terrible effects of war." ***