A World War One-era recruiting poster for the Marine Corps. (Marine Corps)
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No, the United States isn’t trying to build a military force of centenarians.
It just seems that way after the Selective Service System mistakenly sent notices to more than 14,000 Pennsylvania men born between 1893 and 1897, ordering them to register for the nation’s military draft and warning that failure to do so is “punishable by a fine and imprisonment.”
The agency realized the error when it began receiving calls from bewildered relatives last week.
Chuck Huey, 73, of Kingston, said he got a notice addressed to his late grandfather Bert Huey, a World War I veteran who was born in 1894 and died in 1995 at age 100.
“I said, ‘Geez, what the hell is this about?’ It said he was subject to heavy fines and imprisonment if he didn’t sign up for the draft board,” he said. “We were just totally dumbfounded.”
Huey said he tried calling the Selective Service but couldn’t get a live person on the line. That frustrated him even more because he wanted to make sure the agency knew there had been a mistake.
“You just never know. You don’t want to mess around with the federal government,” he said.
The glitch, it turns out, originated with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation during a transfer of nearly 400,000 records to the Selective Service. A clerk working with the state’s database failed to select the century, producing records for males born between 1993 and 1997 — and for those born a century earlier, PennDOT spokeswoman Jan McKnight said Thursday.
“We made a mistake, a quite serious selection error,” McNight said.
The Selective Service didn’t initially catch it because the state used a two-digit code to indicate year of birth, spokesman Pat Schuback said. The federal agency identified 27,218 records of men born in the 1800s, began mailing notices to them on June 30, and began receiving calls from family members on July 3. By that time, it had sent 14,250 notices in error.
“It’s never happened before,” Schuback said.
The men are almost certainly all dead, given that the youngest would be turning 117 this year. Families of those men who received the notices can simply ignore them, he said. Their files will be deactivated and they shouldn’t receive additional communications from the Selective Service. The agency also posted a notice and an apology on its website Thursday.
The state Transportation Department, meanwhile, said it had taken steps to ensure its mistake won’t be repeated.
“We’re really sorry,” McNight said. “We apologize.”