After McWatt’s death, Cathcart, in mourning, increases the mission requirement to 70. Daneeka walks around, speaking to his two assistants, but they insist he is dead, and that he is no longer their supervisor. Daneeka is confused.
Daneeka’s supposed “death” is a comedic counterpoint to the tragedy Heller has just described. This entire chapter is devoted to the bleakly humorous possibilities of a man who is officially, but not actually, dead., as well as to the army's blind devotion to its own rules and regulations no matter the reality of the situation.
Daneeka’s wife is informed of his death via letter, but Daneeka, understanding the administrative mistake, dashes off a quick note to her, saying he is in fact alive. Mrs. Daneeka is greatly relieved.
A prime instance of miscommunication. The military insists that Daneeka is dead, such that Daneeka’s own letter, written in his own handwriting, is eventually discredited.
But the War Department writes to Mrs. Daneeka, saying someone has forged this letter from Daneeka, and that the doctor really is dead. The War Department allows Mrs. Daneeka to cash in the doctor’s GI life insurance plan and burial allowance, and other organizations also give the bereaved widow small amounts of money, on account of Daneeka’s “death.”
The military’s absurdity stretches here to even greater lengths. It is simply easier for the US Army to assert that Daneeka is officially dead than it is for them to change the flight logs, in acknowledgment of the fact that Daneeka wasn’t really on McWatt’s plane in the first place.
In the meantime, Daneeka is no longer allowed to draw a salary, eat his meals, or otherwise coexist with his fellow soldiers. Mrs. Daneeka begins moving on with her life, flirting with other men, and planning for a future without the doctor.
Daneeka’s “death” has very real consequences for him—and ironically enough, if he does not eat or get paid, he could very well actually die.
Daneeka writes once more to his wife, pleading that he is alive, but at the same time a form letter arrives, telling Mrs. Daneeka that the group is extremely sorry for Daneeka’s death in McWatt’s plane—at this, Mrs. Daneeka takes her children and leaves for Michigan, leaving no forwarding address. Daneeka is deeply saddened and confused by this turn of events.
Daneeka’s wife finally decides to move on with her life. It is, again, simply easier for her to accept that her husband is dead than to investigate the trail of miscommunication that would eventually prove he is still alive and well on Pianosa.