For a mother, mourning turns into celebration


June 29, 1996
Web posted at: 11:20 p.m. EDT (0320 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Only yesterday, Maria Taylor was a mother in mourning, certain that her son had been killed in Tuesday's Saudi bombing. On Saturday, that grief turned to elation -- her son had survived.

Maj. Gen. Charles Rodman, USAF Deputy Surgeon General, explains the mix-up:
(366K AIFF or WAV sound)

Taylor's son, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Paul Blais, is in the King Faisal University Hospital listed as "very seriously injured." The 26-year-old Blais had been listed as "unknown" and he was included among the 19 Americans believed dead.

Taylor said Blais was in a coma, and that she had been told he was slowly recovering. Blais was to be flown to a U.S. military hospital in Germany, Taylor said.

Taylor, who lives in Hampton, Virginia, said the Air Force had earlier given her "very good clues" that her son was dead, but had not said it for certain. "In the bottom of my heart, I thought he was dead," she said.

Taylor said Air Force officials called her Friday and indicated that her son was possibly alive, but that they were still uncertain.

"I waited a long time for the answer and finally (the officials) call us today and tell me my son is alive and is 100 percent my son," she said.


"It's a very, very, very happy day of my life," she said. (130K AIFF or WAV sound)

The Air Force said Blais was initially admitted to the hospital as "John Doe." He was mistaken for Airman First Class Christopher B. Lester, who, it was later discovered, had actually died in the blast. The 19-year-old Lester was from Pineville, West Virginia.

The Air Force said members of Lester's unit incorrectly identified Blais as Lester. "Based on that, Lester's next-of-kin was notified he was alive and listed as very seriously injured," the Pentagon said in a news release Saturday.

Officials said they realized the mistake late Friday,

Col. Rex Ray said Blais was one of the eight airmen who were unaccounted for. " His next of kin was notified of his status, " he said.

Ray said when the mix-up came to light when the bodies were being examined again at Dover Air Force Base and "one of the bodies did not match up with who it knew it was."

"That's when we learned that there was an incorrect identification," Ray said.

Blais, from Norfolk, Virginia, was assigned to Patrick AFB, Florida. Lester was assigned to the Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio.

All 19 Americans killed in the explosion at a military housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, have now been officially identified.

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