Vietnam War remains taken from the nation's Tomb of the Unknowns are those of St. Louisan Michael J. Blassie, an Air Force lieutenant who was shot down while on a low-level bombing run in 1972, press and official reports said Monday.
Blassie's family had asked that the Defense Department return the remains for burial at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery here after a CBS News report in January said those in the tomb were “almost certainly” Blassie's.
The government exhumed them May 14 and used DNA analysis to attempt to identify them as those of Blassie or a missing Army helicopter pilot.
The Pentagon had no official comment Monday, but The Associated Press reported that an unidentified Pentagon official had confirmed that the remains are Blassie's.
A spokesman for U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., said that his office also had confirmed the news and that Defense Secretary William Cohen was to inform the family today. A Pentagon spokesman also said an announcement was expected today.
In Florissant, the Blassie family stayed inside the apartment of Michael Blassie's mother, Jean F. Blassie.
Mary Hart, one of his sisters, spoke to reporters about 7 p.m., saying the family planned to hold a press conference today, after it receives official confirmation from the government.
“The Blassie family would not like to comment until we receive official confirmation that it is Michael,” said Hart, also of Florissant.
She said her mother and the rest of the family were doing fine while they waited.
The Associated Press also reported that Althea Strobridge of Perry, Iowa, mother of missing Army Capt. Rodney Strobridge, said a Pentagon official had called her Monday and told her that the remains were those of Blassie.
The remains had been in the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, since Memorial Day 1984. They were alongside the unknowns of World War I, World War II and the Korean War.
Blassie was shot down by groundfire May 11, 1972, near An Loc, South Vietnam, near the Cambodian border. It happened while he was on a bombing run for the 8th Special Operations Squadron. He flew an A-37, a small attack jet that was the combat version of the T-37 “Tweet” trainer. Blassie had flown more than 130 missions in the four months he had been in Vietnam.
Blassie's wingman saw Blassie's jet lose a wing to the fire, crash and burn. Air Force investigators who reached the site several months later found his military identification and skeletal remains, but the military never positively identified any remains as his.
He was 24 when he died. He was listed as “killed in action, no body recovered.”
Blassie grew up in the 2100 block of East College Avenue in north St. Louis, one of five children of George C. and Jean Blassie. He graduated from St. Louis University High School in 1966 and from the U.S. Air Force Academy as a second lieutenant four years later.
His father was a meatcutter at the old McHenry Meat Co. and died in 1991.
In addition to Hart, his sisters and brothers are Judith A. Cozard of Chesterfield, Patricia S. Blassie of Atlanta and George J. Blassie of St. Peters.
For years, the family has reserved a gravesite for Blassie at Jefferson Barracks in south St. Louis County. The family has said that if the remains in the tomb are his, they want to move the body to the grave here.
After the CBS News report, Missouri Sens. Ashcroft and Christopher “Kit” Bond sought records from the Defense Department and urged the government to return the remains to the Blassie family.
In April, the government agreed to exhume the remains and did so after a solemn military ceremony at the tomb May 14. Jean Blassie gave blood samples to help government forensic scientists attempt to compare her DNA with that of the remains.
Two weeks ago, the government said it had had obtained good DNA identification from the remains. They also obtained blood samples from the family of Strobridge, who also was considered a possible candidate for the identification of the remains.
Strobridge also was shot down May 11, 1972, near An Loc.
On Monday, his mother said of her son, “He's still MIA. I don't know whether
to cry or be happy. I didn't know I would feel this way.”
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard