Promising DNA Sample Obtained From Remains of Unknown Soldier, June 12, 1998

Enough DNA is available from the remains taken from the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery to identify the Vietnam War soldier who had been buried there, a Pentagon official said yesterday.

“I believe that we got a very good DNA sample from the remains, and now the next step is to begin matching,” said Defense Department spokesman Ken Bacon.

Six bones from the tomb were removed last month under orders from Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, who was lobbied heavily by a St. Louis family that believes their son's remains were buried in Arlington in 1984.

Bacon said genetic samples had been extracted from the bones. Those samples will now be tested against DNA samples obtained from family members of seven of nine American soldiers shot down near An Loc in South Vietnam in mid-1972.

One family has refused to participate in the testing, which requires genetic samples from a member of the family of the soldier's mother. In the ninth family, there is no descendant to provide a DNA sample, Bacon said.

Military officials have said the two most likely candidates are Air Force First Lieutenant Michael J. Blassie of St. Louis and Army Captain Rodney Strobridge of Torrance, California. Blassie's identification cards were recovered with the body, and Strobridge is the only missing man whose blood type matched previous testing done on the remains.

Blassie's family had pushed the Department of Defense to disinter the remains and perform the genetic testing.

Tests are being performed at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rockville and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

The bones buried in the Vietnam crypt were tentatively identified as Blassie's after they were found by South Vietnamese troops. But they were later reclassified as unknown when blood and forensic tests indicated they did not match Blassie's physical size. Officials then said tests indicated the remains might match Strobridge.

This time, the remains are being tested using more modern DNA technology in a process that forensic pathologists said could take three months or more.

Bacon said the first two parts of the examination “have gone extremely well,” although he could not predict exactly how long the entire procedure would take.

“As the experts explained here before the exhumation took place, this is a complex process and it has many elements to it,” Bacon said. “But certainly crucial to a confident identification is a good DNA match.”

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