Thursday, January 22, 1998
DECEPTION ON TOP OF A LIE?
THE VIETNAM WAR
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
|It is dangerous to
meddle with heroes and myths. The Pentagon apparently decided to do just
that, however. The specific meddling had to do with the appropriation of
remains believed to be those of the late Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie.
Lt. Blassie, who grew up in St. Louis and graduated from St. Louis University High School, was an Air Force hero in the Vietnam War. He was shot down in his A-37 attack plane in May 1972. Since 1984, his remains apparently have been in the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.
Remains initially believed to be Lt. Blassie's were found in October 1972 in a jungle battlefield and taken to a military mortuary in Saigon. Somewhere along the line Blassie's identification was either lost or discarded.
But Lt. Blassie's family members, who live in St. Louis, were told he was "killed in action - body not recovered."
But internally the military continued to describe the remains as "believed to be" Lt. Blassie's. The young officer rested in that limbo for eight years, as pressure increased on the Pentagon to come up with an unknown to join the unknown veterans of World Wars I and II and Korea in the Tomb.
In 1980, an Army review board, for "unknown reasons," renamed the bones X-26. According to a recent CBS report, Congress and then-President Ronald Reagan wanted the body of a fallen Vietnam warrior for the Tomb of the Unknowns. The bones of X-26 were reburied in 1984 with President Reagan officiating.
"The idea that a war that many people see as being founded on lies could be memorialized by a lie just stuck in my mind," said CBS news reporter Vince Gonzales, when asked about his story.
Rep. William Clay, D-Mo. is right in saying that if the military misled Lt. Blassie's family by falsifying records of his remains, it acted without integrity. One might add that if the allegations are true, the Pentagon also acted without human decency.
Lt. Blassie's family wants to bring the remains home to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, where a plot and a headstone await. A sister said the family "wants to bring Michael home and put him to rest. That's what any family would want." That is what any family of a fallen hero deserves.
Pentagon officials' obfuscatory response has been that they want to keep this business just between them and God.
Some might argue that leaving Michael Joseph Blassie's remains in the Tomb of the Unknowns would serve the higher purposes of patriotism. The truth is, his burial there perpetuates the deception visited on America by its government.