Relatives Pleased With Decision To Exhume Vietnam Unknown
Courtesy of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, May 8, 1998
Relatives here were pleased with Monday's announcement by the Pentagon that it was recommending exhumation of remains the family believes to be those of Air Force Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie of St. Louis, whose A-37 attack plane was shot down over South Vietnam in May 1972. 

"I've been up to Washington with my daughters several times and just knew it was Michael there in the Tomb of the Unknowns," Jean Blassie said Monday from her home in Florissant. She is the mother of Lt. Blassie. 

News reports surfaced in January indicating that the remains of a Vietnam soldier buried in the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery might be those of Blassie. 

Remains found a few months after Blassie crashed near An Loc in 1972 were initially believed to be his but new information suggested that military officials in 1980 reclassified the remains as unidentified and moved them to the Tomb of the Unknowns because they needed an unidentified body from the Vietnam war. The Pentagon acknowledged it later destroyed records from the case but only to preserve the sanctity of the tomb and the anonymity of the remains. 

The family, backed by Missouri Sens. John Ashcroft and Christopher "Kit" Bond, has pushed for exhumation and DNA testing as the only way to determine if the skeletal remains are Blassie's. The Department of Defense balked at opening the tomb and named a team of senior military officers and Department of Defense officials to investigate. 

The team's recommendation for disinterment is to go to Defense Secretary William Cohen for a final decision. 

A congressional source predicted that Cohen would respond within a week. "The Pentagon wants this all wrapped up before Memorial Day," the source said. 

Pat Blassie, Michael Blassie's sister and herself a captain in the Air Force Reserve, was confident Cohen's decision will be "the right one for the family." 

"We're very happy the department is taking this step, which is all we've ever asked," she said from her office in Atlanta. 

Charles Cragin, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, confirmed Monday that circumstantial physical evidence found with the remains near An Loc indicates they could be Blassie's. But other evidence, including blood type and physical characteristics, was not conclusive, he added. 

In theory, the remains could belong to eight other Air Force or Army fighter and helicopter pilots who went down in the area during the same period, but whose bodies were never found, according to the Defense Department. 

As a result, Cragin said that Pentagon officials determined that the only way to be certain whether the remains were those of Blassie was to exhume them. 

Cragin said the Defense Department has been in touch with members of the families of all nine service members whose remains could in theory be involved. But he said Pentagon officials still believe Blassie is the most likely candidate. 

The Blassie family hopes to bury the remains at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, where members have already dedicated a gravesite.