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Vietnam Unknown Is Air Force Pilot

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 2, 1998 – DoD scientists have determined the remains of the Vietnam Unknown are those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael J. Blassie, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen announced June 30.

Cohen said a mitochondrial DNA test -- unavailable when the Vietnam Unknown was buried in 1984 -- gave a “99.9 percent” assurance that the remains are Blassie’s. He said the test allowed DoD to “ease the anguish of one American family,” and he vowed DoD will continue its search for Americans lost in combat.

Cohen said DoD will consult with Congress, veterans organizations and families before making a recommendation on whether to inter another Vietnam Unknown in the now-vacant crypt at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery. But, he said, science has progressed so far he doubts there will ever be another unknown service member.

A DoD senior-level working group had studied the issue of DNA testing and recommended the remains be disinterred. The group said the remains most likely were those of Blassie or Army Capt. Rodney Strobridge, two U.S. pilots lost near An Loc, South Vietnam, on May 11, 1972. DoD investigators also included seven Americans lost in a C-130 transport plane near An Loc to cover all possibilities.

Scientists at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rockville, Md., were able to extract mitochondrial DNA from one of the six bones disinterred May 14 from the Tomb of the Unknowns. Mitochondrial DNA is passed down unchanged through the maternal bloodline, and researchers were able to get samples from seven of the nine families involved in the investigation.

Lab scientists sampled the bones and “typed” the DNA. They then typed the DNA samples provided by the seven families. Ed Huffine, mitochondrial DNA section chief at the Rockville lab, called the samples from the remains and from Jean Blassie, Michael Blassie’s mother, an “exceptionally vivid,” near-100 percent match.

Cohen thanked the families for their cooperation during the whole process. He said the Blassie family had expressed satisfaction with the way DoD has handled the disinterment.

There are still 2,087 Americans unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. The remains of 496 U.S. service members have been identified since the end of the war.

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