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Historically Yours: Soldier from Tomb of Vietnam Unknown comes home

Elizabeth Davis
Special to Boonville Daily News

On March 4, 1921, Congress approved the burial of an unidentified World War I veteran in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. That burial took place on Nov. 11, 1921. It was another five years before Congress authorized the completion of the Tomb which is inscribed on the west panel:

HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD

President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill on Aug. 3, 1956, to pay tribute to the Unknowns of World War II and the Korean War. Those burials took place on May 30, 1958.

A similar interment ceremony was presided over by President Ronald Reagan on May 28, 1984, for an Unknown Serviceman of the Vietnam Era.

In 1994, after much research, it was determined that the remains of the Vietnam Unknown were probably those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie who was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972.

A reporter contacted Blassie’s family. They contacted the Air Force’s casualty office without success. CBS News broadcast the report in 1998. This brought enough political pressure on the story to have the body exhumed on May 14, 1998. Through mitochondrial DNA testing, it was confirmed that the remains were those of Blassie.

Michael Joseph Blassie was born April 4, 1948, in St. Louis. He graduated from St. Louis University High School and entered the United States Air Force Academy where he graduated in 1970.

Attending Undergraduate Pilot Training, he received his aeronautical rating as an Air Force pilot in 1971. He served as a member of the 8th Special Operations Squadron which was deployed to Southeast Asia. Blassie died when his A-37B Dragonfly was shot down in what was then South Vietnam.

Following the identification, Blassie’s remains were returned to his family and reinterred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery on July 11, 1998.

It was decided that the Vietnam crypt at Arlington National Cemetery would remain empty and the slab marking “Vietnam” was replaced with one reading “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen.”

Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News since April 2008, She has covered the War Between the States, US history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s upcoming Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.davis@gmail.com