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Heyl: Dearly departed feel draft

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Saturday, July 12, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The notification surely startled the deceased.

Many of them were dead for decades, enjoying eternity blissfully free of obligation to the world they departed. Then, amid the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes advisories, the Giant Eagle weekly special circulars and the monthly cemetery maintenance bill, the draft notifications arrived in the mail.

Much to their posthumous surprise, they were informed they had to register.

Imagine the perplexed looks on the faces — OK, skulls — of more than 14,000 Pennsylvania males born between 1893 and 1897 when their relatives recently received the Selective Service System notifications.

The dead seldom are dunned for draft registration, the Selective Service System acknowledged in an apology posted on its website:

“Selective Service regrets any inconvenience caused the families of these (late) men and assures them that the error has been corrected and no action is required on their part.”

Who's responsible for the mistake that caused the federal agency considerable chagrin? It doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to correctly deduce it's the Pennsylvania agency responsible for maintaining the state's roads and bridges.

That's right. It's PennDOT's fault. The department apparently is as adept at data transfer as it is at infrastructure upkeep.

According to The Associated Press, during a computer transfer of 400,000 records between PennDOT and Selective Service, a clerk unwisely failed to select a century for the records being sent. In terms of database mistakes, that's akin to painting a lane-dividing stripe over a deer carcass.

The error resulted in the transmittal of records for men born between 1993 and 1997 and those born a century earlier. It's unclear why PennDOT has the older records; it's unlikely any of the gentlemen born then will be renewing driver's licenses.

Whatever the reason, it's intriguing to imagine the possible reactions of these ultimate draft dodgers when they learned they might one day be exhumed and pressed into military service:

• “Holy cow. When Uncle Sam points his finger and says, ‘I Want You!' he isn't kidding.”

• “I died in a tragic train accident in 1913. I missed World War I, World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, both Iraq wars, and now they need me battle-ready? Where were they a century ago?”

• “It says that failure to respond to this notice is punishable by fine and imprisonment. Ha! In terms of confinement, it's going to be hard to top being buried in a casket.”

• “Does the Army have any idea how difficult it is to fire a rifle once rigor mortis has set in?”

• “Putting on a soldier's uniform might not be so bad. The suit I was buried in back in 1967 is plenty moldy.”

• “I'm not sure having me in a foxhole would do much for the morale of the rest of the troops.”

Eric Heyl is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7857 or

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