VETERANS GROUPS OPPOSE THE ATTEMPT BY BLASSIE FAMILY TO OBTAIN TOP MEDAL
The family feels the Medal of Honor should be here with Michael Blassie. But others say the medal was awarded symbolically to the Unknown Soldier and should stay at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Michael J. Blassie saga isn't over yet.
The Air Force first lieutenant's remains are buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, as his family wanted.
Still unresolved is what will happen to the Medal of Honor - the nation's highest award for heroism. It hung on the Tomb of the Unknowns near Washington for 14 years when Blassie was interred there.
The family feels the medal should be here in St. Louis with Michael Blassie. But some military officials and veterans say the medal was awarde d symbolically to the Unknown Soldier - not to a specific person - and should remain at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
An Air Force legal study is under review by various Defense Department offices and will be forwarded to Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen.
It's uncertain when that will happen or when he will make a decision.
In a recent interview, Cohen said, "My understanding was that the medal was awarded for the benefit of all of those who remained unknown. But that's an issue that has . . . to be subjected to some legal analysis right now."
The Blassie medal was one of four special Medals of Honor that were awarded to the Unknowns of the two world wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War by President Ronald Reagan at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 1984. The medals have been on display at the cemetery since then.
Family sought DNA testing
The St. Louis pilot was shot down on a bombing run in the battle of An Loc in South Vietnam on May 11, 1972, but the remains recovered from an area of several military plane crashes went unidentified for 26 years.
At the insistence of the Blassie family and pressure from the Missouri delegation in Congress, the Pentagon reluctantly agreed in May to disinter the remains for DNA testing.
Positive identification was established with blood samples from the airman's mother, Jean Blassie of Florissant, and his sister, Patricia Blassie of Atlanta.
The remains were reburied with full military honors at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery on July 10.
But the issue of the medal has not been laid to rest.
"This needs to be decided for the American people," said Patricia Blassie, an Air Force Reserve captain.
"I understand the medal is symbolic, but it was Michael who served as that symbol for 14 years and it should stay with him. They shouldn't take it away just because he has been identified," she said.
Veterans groups oppose giving the medal to Blassie.
Even though he was awarded the Silver Star for bravery posthumously, the Medal of Honor has stricter criteria, including nomination by a commander and eyewitness confirmation of high acts of valor, said Phil Budahn, a spokesman for the American Legion in Washington.
"The Medal of Honor is something very, very special and it simply was not awarded to this particular hero," he said.
Budahn added that an act of Congress was required to issue special medals to the Unknowns and that giving one to the family of an identified warrior would countermand that legislation.
Defense Secretary Cohen has expressed doubt that Blassie's remains will be replaced in the Tomb of the Unknowns by those of another Vietnam War unknown because of the accuracy of advanced DNA testing.
Patricia Blassie said an option for her brother's unassigned medal might be to display it at Jefferson Barracks Cemetery, either at the main office or in the cemetery chapel.
"We would be open to what is best," she said.
"It's always one step at a time for us."