Pentagon IDs "Unknown Soldier"
By Susanne M. Schafer - Associated Press - June 29, 1998
WASHINGTON (AP) - The airman whose remains were exhumed from the Tomb of the Unknowns is Michael J. Blassie, an Air Force pilot shot down in the Vietnam War.
The identification, made after the remains were restudied using DNA analysis, was made public in a Pentagon telephone call to the family of another serviceman whose remains officials thought might be in the tomb.
The official who called "just said they had got the results back and that the body was Blassie's," said Althea Strobridge, the mother of Capt. Rodney Strobridge.
No member of the Blassie family was immediately available for comment.
Pentagon officials said an announcement was expected Tuesday.
Both Blassie and Strobridge were shot down on May 11, 1972, around An Loc.
The Pentagon said circumstantial evidence, including identification and gear from a plane like Blassie's A-37 fighter, were found with the remains, but initial blood- and body-type evidence -- which his family later questioned -- suggested the remains were not his.
That is why his identification was ruled out years ago, military officials said.
Blassie's family had pressed for the exhumation, saying they were convinced it was their relative laid to rest at the tomb 14 years ago.
"We're waiting and preparing for him to come home," his mother, Jean Blassie, said two weeks ago after the Pentagon announced a good DNA sample had been recovered.
In Perry, Iowa, Mrs. Strobridge said the news brought mixed emotions.
"He's still MIA," missing in action, she said of her son, who had been an Army helicopter pilot. "I don't know whether to cry or be happy. I didn't know I would feel this way."
Pentagon officials had indicated that Strobridge and Blassie were the most likely candidates for identification.
The Pentagon had scientists check the remains for a genetic match with Blassie or eight other servicemen who went down in airplanes or helicopters around the same time in 1972 in the war zone where the remains were found.
The identification was made with DNA test methods developed since the early 1980s, when the remains initially had been declared unidentifiable.
The remains were exhumed May 14.
"We disturb this hallowed ground with profound reluctance," Defense Secretary William Cohen said at the ceremony that. But he added, "If advances in technology can ease the lingering anguish of even one family, then our path is clear."
At the time, cemetery historian Tom Sherlock said the likelihood was strong that, through DNA advances, the nation will never again fight a war that produces unidentifiable casualties.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press