The Unknown/Known Warrior (May 1972)

In the early 1980s the US government decided to bury the remains of an unidentified serviceman to represent the Vietnam War in the Tomb of the Unknowns in Washington, DC.  On 13 April 1984 the Department of Defense selected a set of unidentified remains that were being kept at the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii.  The remains finally chosen had been found by an ARVN reconnaissance team near An Loc in October 1972.  The remains only consisted of six bones comprising just three per cent of the skeleton.  Associated with the remains when they were originally found were pieces of a parachute and a flying suit, a pistol holster and a one-man inflatable life raft and, amazingly, an identity card bearing the name of 1Lt Michael Blassie.  This identity card was stolen before the remains reached the mortuary in Saigon and only a tentative identification was attached to the remains.  In 1980 this tentative identification was downgraded to an ‘unidentifiable’ status.  Thus it was apparent from the very start that the Unknown Warrior had been known to be an airman and was even tentatively identified as 1Lt Michael Blassie.  Nevertheless, in 1984 the by now unidentified remains were buried with full honours at the Arlington National Cemetery beside the Tomb of the Unknown Warriors from World War One, World War Two and the Korean War.

Several aircraft went down near An Loc during the war including two C-130s and an AC-119 (in which a total of 15 men were killed); two O-2s; an A-37 Dragonfly, and several helicopters.  The items found with the remains point very strongly to the remains being associated with the A-37 or O-2s as helicopter crews were not usually equipped with parachutes and the C-130 and AC-119 did not carry one-man life rafts.

Thanks to some determined investigative journalism based in part on the research of a POW/MIA activist, a series of reports were aired on CBS News concerning the identification of the remains.  Public pressure mounted on the Clinton Administration to investigate the remains that had been buried as the Unknown Warrior as it was strongly suspected that the remains recovered near An Loc in 1972 were those of 1Lt Michael Blassie.  Despite initial reluctance on the part of the US Government, President Clinton ordered the opening of the Tomb to allow an examination.  This took place on 14 May 1998 and a very thorough forensic examination involving the use of mitochondrial DNA testing did eventually prove that the scant remains belonged to 1Lt Blassie and he was laid to rest with full military honours at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery near St Louis, Missouri on 10 July 1998.  The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior representing the Vietnam War has since remained empty and now serves as a memorial to the commitment of the US armed forces to account for all missing servicemen whenever possible.