WASHINGTON — Letters that were sent by the U.S. Army to relatives of soldiers killed overseas and that began with the erroneous salutation "Dear John Doe" were printed by a company based in Torrance, the government has disclosed.
The Army had refused to release the name of the printing contractor because military officials consider the error their responsibility. But the Government Printing Office, a separate agency, responded to an information request from The Times by releasing the name of the contractor, iColor Printing & Mailing Inc., earlier this week.
The president of iColor, Adil Kahn, said his company did a great deal of printing work for the government. He declined to comment on the error. Asked if the mistake occurred at the iColor plant, Kahn said that was something the Government Printing Office would have to determine.
An Army spokesman said the error occurred because of a failure of a mail merge program, software used to personalize large mailings.
The letters, sent last month to relatives of all Army soldiers killed since the start of the Afghan and Iraq wars, described goods and services families are eligible to receive. But because of the error, the letters began with "Dear John Doe."
Earlier this week, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, said the Army had halted such mass mailings and was trying to determine "appropriate action against the contractor."
According to the government purchase order for the printing job, iColor was responsible for individually addressing each letter using a spreadsheet containing 7,068 names and addresses. The purchase order also required iColor to perform a basic check to "assure correct output" of the letters.
The cost of the job, according to the purchase order, was at least $4,790. The letters were supposed to arrive Dec. 23, although several military families reported that they did not receive them until early this month. The letters outlined goods and services that families of fallen soldiers are eligible to receive.
Casey signed 7,000 letters by hand, apologizing for the salutation error. Those letters were mailed last week, and an Army officer said the majority should have arrived this week.
Not all relatives have been placated. Kathryn Castner, the mother of Army Cpl. Stephen W. Castner, who was killed in Iraq in July 2006, was among those who called the military to complain after she received the "Dear John Doe" letter.
"I found it insulting such an error would be made," she said. "It just touched on all the anger that has built up in me."
Castner, of Cedarburg, Wis., has been trying to obtain information about the circumstances of her son's death from the Army.
"I hate to sound like an ingrate, but I don't need quilts or the other things offered in the brochure," she said. "I want the truth."
Some family members had asked the Army to release the name of the printer. Castner said a rumor among some families was that the erroneous letters had been printed overseas. She said she was worried about what company had been given her address.
"Somebody has all our names," Castner said. "Who has our names now? Is that something we should be concerned about?"