A pioneer of American literature, Washington Irving was born the year the American Revolution ended (1783) and died two years before the commencement of the Civil War (1859). Biographer, essayist, and historian, he is best known today for his short stories “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
The image at the right is actually an 1861 copy by Matthew Brady of a daguerreotype of Irving that was made by John Plumbe sometime between 1855 and 1860. Brady also reversed Plumbe's original.
There is no particular reason Yossarian should substitute the name of Washington Irving on censored correspondence -- his choice of it seems to have been utterly arbitrary -- but that’s the point. We will witness Yossarian become the victim of so many other arbitrary regulations and decisions by others above and below him in the chain of command. In this instance, Yossarian arbitrarily and even unknowingly victimizes someone else, in fact the exact person he was described a page earlier as being “madly in love” with, though at this point he apparently has not made his acquaintance: Chaplain Tappman.
This passing reference to “Washington Irving” will become an ongoing theme in the book. The C.I.D. man (see below, same page) notices the name and becomes obsessed with tracking down the responsible party. Yossarian mentions the mysterious name to Milo Minderbender in Chapter 7. In Chapter 9 Major Major gets the idea to forge the name on documents after hearing about it from the C.I.D. man (pages 90 and 93-96 in this edition). The name will vaguely cross the consciousnesses of other characters, such as Colonel Cathcart.
If Yossarian or Major Major managed to execute a decent forgery of Washington Irving's actual signature -- the odds are they didn't, because they probably didn't know what it looked like, or care -- then it would have resembled the name above, as the actual personage wrote it.
In Chapter 36, “The Cellar,” the chaplain finally gets interrogated about the very letter Yossarian defaced back in Chapter 1.