Soldier In Tomb Of Unknowns May Actually Be Known
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Jan. 20) -- Is the identity of one of the soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknowns actually known? Controversy is swirling around the Pentagon following a news report Monday night.
CBS News reported the remains of one of the men are "believed to be" by Pentagon officials those of Vietnam-era Air Force Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie of St. Louis. Blassie, a 24-year-old A-37 fighter pilot, was shot down on May 11, 1972, about 60 miles north of Saigon.
The Tomb of the Unknowns is considered the most hallowed grave at America's most sacred military cemetery. It is home to the unidentified remains of soldiers from America's major 20th-century wars.
According to CBS, Blassie's identity card, some money and pieces of a flight suit were found along with the skeletal remains of the Vietnam soldier. It was reported that at least three other American soldiers saw the card.
In 1980, however, an Army review board reportedly said the remains were not Blassie's, and four years later they were buried at Arlington.
The question of identity of the "unknown" Vietnam veteran buried in the Tomb of the Unknowns was also raised nearly four years ago in a veterans newsletter.
In a 1994 report, and a follow-up article in 1996, "The U.S. Veterans Dispatch" cited evidence from Pentagon records which suggested the remains interred in the tomb on Memorial Day 1984 were those of Blassie.
Now Blassie's family wants the remains exhumed and identified with advanced DNA techniques. "Everything leads to the tomb ... If it's Michael, he is not unknown. He might be unidentified, but he's not unidentifiable. And we want to bring him home," Blassie's sister, Pat, said.
Blassie's mother, Jean, said, "I'd like to have my son ... with his own tombstone ... I would like him brought home."
The Pentagon is reviewing the request.
By the Vietnam era, identification techniques were sophisticated enough that only three or four of those killed in combat whose remains were recovered were not positively identified.
The CBS report suggested that pressure to bury an unknown Vietnam soldier at the tomb may have kept the military from doing a thorough identification.
The Defense Department's POW-MIA office spokesman, Larry Greer, told The Associated Press that all records regarding the selection process behind the Tomb of the Unknowns are destroyed "so that these remains would be known only to God."
But the DNA testing would be considered, Greer said. "After we gather all the information we believe is available, we're going to be passing it up to appropriate officials to see at what level such a decision might be made," he said.
Veterans Newsletter Report
Ted Sampley, publisher of the "The U.S. Veterans Dispatch" newsletter that wrote about Blassie in 1994, said that investigators had enough physical evidence recovered from a crash site excavated in October 1972 to conclude the bones were those of Blassie.
Remnants of a parachute, a flight suit, a pistol holder and a one-man inflatable raft were recovered along with the remains, which consisted of six bones, or only three percent of a skeleton, Sampley said.
Those items would have been with Blassie, but not with any of the other airmen missing within a 2,500 square mile area of where the remains of the Unknown serviceman were found, Sampley said.
Sampley, who attended the 1984 ceremony in which the remains were placed in the tomb, said the Defense Department waived the rule used after previous wars requiring that the remains selected for the tomb be 80 percent complete.
Sampley also blamed the U.S. government's eagerness to place a Vietnam veteran in the Tomb of the Unknowns for its interment of a serviceman who can be identified.
"The entombment of the Vietnam Unknown was at the very best premature and at worst a politically expedient attempt to further close the books on the POW/MIA issue," Sampley said.