Obit of the Day: Mother of The Unknown Soldier
The Blassie family received the horrible news in the Spring of 1972. Lieutenant Michael Blassie, a United States Air Force pilot, was shot down and presumed dead over An Loc in Vietnam. The Blassie family was told that his remains could not be found.
Two decades later, they were
Patricia Blassie, herself a member of the Air Force Reserves, was contacted by an Army Green Beret in 1994. The soldier told Ms. Blassie that while doing research for an article he determined that Michael Blassie’s remains were not only identified - but later interred in the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.
The Blassies were shocked but did not have information to go any further. For three years they were in turmoil as they wondered if the information was accurate.
Three years later - 25 years after Lt. Blassie was shot down - they were contacted by Vince Gonzales of CBS News. He too had determined that Michael’s remains were to be found in the Tomb of the Unknowns buried alongside unknown soldiers from World Wars I and II and the Korean War.
The family met to discuss whether they should allow Mr. Gonzales’ investigation to continue. Disturbing the Tomb of the Unknowns was a big step and, if they were wrong, would cause additional trauma.
Jean Blassie, Michael’s mom, ended the discussion when she said “I want my son home.”
Through the CBS investigation it was learned that in October 1972 the wreckage of Lt. Blassie’s A-37B Dragonfly was found. They also found his flight suit, some human remains, and other pieces of equipment. The remains were classifed as “BTB [believed to be] Lt. Blassie” and placed in storage.
In 1980, the remains were reclassifed as “Unknown.” The investigation uncovered that Lt. Blassie’s remains were changed to “Unknown” in response to pressure from Vietnam veterans’ who wanted an unknown soldier from the Vietnam War buried in Arlington.
In 1984 President Ronald Reagan ordered that a Vietnam-era soldier be placed in the Tomb of the Unknowns. On May 28, 1984 (a few days past the 12th anniversary of Lt. Blassie’s death) a large funeral procession brought a flag-draped casket to its resting place in Arlington Cemetery.
After CBS televised its report in January 1998, the Pentagon began its own investigation. In May 1998, Secretary of Defense William Cohen agreed to disinter the remains of the “unknown” soldier for DNA testing. The testing proved that the body was, in fact, Lt. Michael Blassie.
Twenty-six years after he had died, Michael was returning home. He was given a full military funeral including a flyover over by F-15s in the “missing man” formation at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Mrs. Blassie was given the flag that was draped over her son’s coffin.
Jean Blassie who fought to find her son and bring him back to his family died on June 10, 2013 at the age of 90.
Sources: STLToday.com, HomeofHeroes.com, NY Times, and Wikipedia
(Images: Jean Blassie holding a photo of her son, April 1998, copyright AP/James A. Finley; Undated 1971 photo of Lt. Michael Blassie; Lt. Blassie’s headstone in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, June 13, 2013 copyright Erik M. Lunsford. All photos courtesy of STLToday.com)
A couple of other notes:
• There are no longer any remains from any soldier of the Vietnam era in the Tomb of the Unknowns.
• It has been determined that based on modern science there will no longer be any unknown soldiers. (Article)
• The World War I unknown soldier was laid to rest on November 11, 1921 (Armistice Day, now known as Veterans’ Day).
• The World War II unknown and the Korean War unknowns placed in the tomb on May 28, 1958.
• The unknowns are selected by Medal of Honor winners. The solider or sailor was given a choice of two to four similar caskets and asked to pick one to become the unknown soldier.
• Since the unknown soldier has no known next of kin, traditionally the President of the United States receives the folded flag that had covered the casket.