Airman’s Family Ponders Mystery – 22 January 1998

Even if the mystery remains whether 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie is buried in the Tomb of the Unknowns, one thing is clear — his family has gained from the experience.

They have pored over government documents, talked to everyone from classmates of Blassie to his commander in Vietnam and rummaged through their own memories.

“We have found out much more about our brother. We have learned so much,” said his sister, Pat Blassie. “No matter what, it has been a good thing.”

What they don't know is if the man whose A-37 fighter jet was knocked out of the sky in May 1972 is the same person whose bones are interred in the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington.

A CBS News report aired Monday night said that the Pentagon, hard-pressed to find an unknown victim of the war, destroyed documents identifying the skeletal remains found near the crash site as Blassie.

The Pentagon faces the unpleasant task of disturbing the grave to perform DNA testing on the half dozen bones buried beneath the marble slab.

Burial in the Tomb of the Unknowns may be honorable, said Ms. Blassie, but the tight-knit family would prefer to have the pilot buried at home.

Blassie was just 24 when he died over An Loc, about 60 miles north of Saigon. Even at that tender age, family members said Wednesday, he had demonstrated a character and sense of duty that impressed those around him.

“I was 14 when he was killed,” said Ms. Blassie. “All my memories of him are really neat. We all looked up to him.

“He was an exceptional officer. He was honorable. He taught us patriotism. We were proud of him and we still are, we really are.”

His schoolmates recalled Blassie as a hardworking athlete, a bassoon player in the band at a Jesuit-run high school and a serious but friendly young man.

“He was a good boy and a good student,” said his mother, Jean Blassie. “He was motivated. … When he went to the library, he always came home with biographies. He liked to read about great men.”

Blassie was born and grew up in a north St. Louis neighborhood. He attended the former Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic elementary school and received a musical scholarship to St. Louis University High School. A soccer standout, he also ran track and played tennis.

Blassie won an appointment to the Air Force Academy in Colorado and became a pilot. He was shot down by ground fire on his 132nd mission as a member of a special operations squadron.

One of his superior officers, Mel Ledbetter of Nashville, Tenn., was a lieutenant colonel in Blassie's unit. He said the young pilot understood the risks and died doing what he wanted to do.

“If Mike is there … his mother just wants to bring him home,” Ledbetter said. “If he's not there, we know that he's definitely somewhere. I just hope that the family can get some closure.”

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