Veteran endures 3-month odyssey getting NC ReaI ID for 60th wedding anniversary trip

Veteran endures 3-month odyssey getting NC ReaI ID for 60th wedding anniversary trip
Bob Johnson, 88, of Matthews endured a three-month odyssey to get an NC Real ID card for his and his wife's 60th wedding anniversary cruise of the British Isles. (Credit: Photo provided to the Observer courtesy of Bob and Carol Johnson)

CHARLOTTE, NC (Joe Marusak/The Charlotte Observer) - An 88-year-old Korean War veteran from North Carolina endured a three-month odyssey to get one of the state's new N.C. Real ID licenses for his and his wife's planned 60th wedding anniversary cruise of the British Isles.

The new license is just like your traditional driver's license or ID but has a gold star endorsement at the top, officials with the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles said when the cards became available in April 2017. The card will get you through airports more easily, officials said.

In an apparent case of mistaken identity, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation blocked Bob Johnson of Matthews from getting the card when he applied for one at the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles office in Monroe in January. An officer told him to call the Pennsylvania DOT in Harrisburg, Johnson said.

The first person Johnson spoke with at the Pennsylvania DOT told him he hadn't paid a $400 fine for a 1988 driving violation. The person refused to tell him the nature of the violation or where it occurred.

An online search of public records by the Observer showed that a Pittsburgh man named Robert Johnson failed to pay a $400 fine involving a 1988 driving under the influence case. That Robert Johnson was born in 1932, two years after Robert Johnson of Matthews.

Johnson and his wife Carol, said they haven't been to Pennsylvania since moving from there in 1966 with his sales and marketing job with Arthur D. Little, an international management consulting firm. He also is a retired engineer.

Johnson also said he was told to send the Pennsylvania DOT a letter stating that he did not live in the Keystone State and to include a copy of his passport, social security card and two proofs of N.C. residency. He sent the information by priority mail on Jan. 23, he said, and the letter arrived in Harrisburg on the morning of Jan. 25.

The person he talked with at the Pennsylvania DOT, of "PennDOT," also told him it took only two to four days to resolve such cases.

He was promised a return call, he said, but never got one. He ended up calling a PennDOTcall center at least a dozen times over the months, he and his wife said, each time getting the same response that his case would take only two or three days to resolve. It appears the call center kept sending him to the wrong office, according to the Johnsons.

Bob Johnson finally called the office of U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., which referred him to the office of State Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Matthews, which was told by PennDOT that PennDOT was barred by privacy laws from discussing individual cases.

Frustrated by the lack of response from PennDOT, Carol Johnson called the Observer last Friday. "It's your government at work," Carol Johnson, 81, said. "It's been exasperating."

Late Monday morning, the Observer spoke with PennDOT press secretary Rich Kirkpatrick,who said he was prohibited by law from discussing specific cases but would contact a department official to resolve the case if the agency had the wrong Bob Johnson.

That official called Bob Johnson of Matthews soon after to say a letter had been mailed to him telling him that the block had been removed, the Johnsons told the Observer.

"Very, very relieved," Carol Johnson said. "It's been so stressful."

Observer day news editor Katy Petiford contributed.