Gannett said it had turned up 11 identical letters from soldiers serving in Iraq with the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment. Six of the soldiers contacted by Gannett said they knew of the letters and agreed with their substance, but hadn't written them.
But another letter, purportedly written by a GI hospitalized for wounds suffered in a grenade attack, came as a surprise to Pfc. Nick Deaconson of Beckley, W.Va., according to his dad.
The soldier received a congratulatory phone call from his father, Timothy, for getting the letter published in the local newspaper.
"When I told him he wrote such a good letter, he said: 'What letter?'" Timothy Deaconson told Gannett. "This is just not his (writing) style."
An Army spokesman contacted by Gannett said he had been told the letter was written by a soldier, though he did not know the identity of the author.
"When he asked other soldiers in his unit to sign it, they did," said Sgt. Todd Oliver of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. "Someone, somewhere along the way, took it upon themselves to mail it to the various editors of newspapers across the country."
Another purported letter writer contacted by Gannett, Sgt. Shawn Grueser of Poca, W.Va., said he spoken to a military public affairs officer about the situation in Iraq for what he believed was a press release to be sent to his local newspaper.
Grueser said that while he shared the viewpoint expressed in the letter, he was uncomfortable with the fact that the letter did not contain his own words.
"It makes it look like you cheated on a test, and everybody got the same grade," Grueser told Gannett.
The five-paragraph letter praises the U.S. effort in Iraq. For example, letters supposedly written by different soldiers showed up the Tulare (Calif.) Advance-Register and the Boston Globe within two days of each other last month. Here's how the letters describe - in identical language - the situation in Kirkuk, Iraq:
"Kirkuk is a hot and dusty city of just over a million people. The majority of the city has welcomed our presence with open arms. After nearly five months here, the people still come running from their homes, in the 110-degree heat, waving to us as our troops drive by on daily patrols of the city. Children smile and run up to shake hands, and in broken English, shout, 'Thank you, mister.'"