AUGUST 18, 1998 – Unknown Soldier Medal’s Fate Mulled

The Pentagon is close to reaching a conclusion on whether the Medal of Honor awarded to the Vietnam War's unknown soldier should be given to his family now that the body has been identified.

The Air Force has nearly completed a review of the request for the medal from the family of Air Force Lt. Michael J. Blassie, whose remains were removed from the Tomb of the Unknowns after forensic science allowed an identification.

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said Tuesday that while Defense Secretary William Cohen will consider the results of the review, the military's position is that the medal was awarded symbolically to an entire class of unidentified soldiers. The medal had hung at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

“I think we've made it pretty clear that our view is that the Medal of Honor was symbolic,” Bacon said. “It went to the tomb as a symbol for all those missing in action. But the Air Force is looking into this, and I suspect that we will convey the final decision, when that's made, relatively soon, to the Blassie family.”

Earlier this summer, Cohen voiced that same view, saying “the medal was awarded for the benefit of all of those who remained unknown.” However, Cohen noted that Blassie also had been “awarded the Silver Star posthumously to reflect his bravery in the course of his duties.”

At the insistence of the Blassie family, the Pentagon reluctantly agreed in May to disinter the remains from the Tomb of the Uknowns at Arlington National Cemetery for DNA testing, which produced a positive identification. The remains were reburied July 10 at Jefferson Barrack National Cemetery outside St. Louis.

Blassie's sister, Patricia Blassie, an Air Force Reserve captain, said the family understands the medal was awarded for symbolic purposes, “but it was Michael who served as that symbol for 14 years and it should stay with him.”

Veterans organizations oppose giving the medal to Blassie, arguing that the award of the Medal of Honor is based on strict criteria.

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