Ian McVey wanted to serve his country, so he joined the Marines after college. He was supposed to go to Iraq, but died not long before his unit shipped out in a motorcycle accident.
Ian's father, John McVey, had to settle Ian's college loans. He wrote to the lenders, asking the debts to be forgiven and two agreed. The third, Sallie Mae (originally founded as Student Loan Marketing Association in 1972, as a government-sponsored enterprise), decided that it'd rather have the money:
John McVey then wrote a very personal letter to Sallie Mae:
"In the process of his education, Ian amassed considerable loans. But Ian was steadfast in his desire to serve our country rather than begin a life in business where his income would have been double or triple his Marine service payment. Giving to our country was Ian's calling, and we admired and supported his choice of service. He was a good and noble son and better friend.
"We are asking that you forgive Ian's loans as his federal loans are being forgiven on the basis of Ian's choice of service to our country as a patriot and so that our family may not have to bear these financial burdens while we deal with the inconsolable grief over the senseless, tragic and untimely loss of our son. While life has not been fair, we pray that you will be."
Sallie Mae responded with a computer-generated letter that, aside from a "Please accept our condolences for your loss" stuck in the middle, was a demand for $53,144.
There was no name on the letter. John McVey's attempts to get a human being to talk to him about this have been met with computer-generated voices.
Kevin Cullen of The Boston Globe has the story (since the article was published, Sallie Mae suddenly had a change of heart and had forgiven the debt): Link