Michael Blassie

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Michael Blassie
Michael Blassie in his Air Force Academy cadet uniform
Birth nameMichael Joseph Blassie
Born(1948-04-04)April 4, 1948
DiedMay 11, 1972(1972-05-11) (aged 24)
Killed in action, near An Lộc, South Vietnam
Place of burial
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUnited States Air Force
Years of serviceUSAFA: 1966–1970
USAF: 1970–1972
RankFirst lieutenant
Battles/warsVietnam War 

Michael Joseph Blassie (April 4, 1948 – May 11, 1972) was an officer in the United States Air Force who was killed in action during the Vietnam War in May 1972. Prior to the identification of his remains, Blassie was the unknown service member from the Vietnam War buried at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. After his remains were identified by DNA testing in 1998, his remains were moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in South St. Louis County, Missouri.


After graduating from St. Louis University High School, Blassie entered the United States Air Force Academy, from which he graduated in 1970.[1] He then attended Undergraduate Pilot Training, receiving his aeronautical rating as an Air Force pilot in 1971. He subsequently qualified as an A-37 Dragonfly pilot and served as a member of the 8th Special Operations Squadron, deployed to Southeast Asia. Blassie died when his A-37B Dragonfly was shot down near An Lộc in what was then South Vietnam.

Orders, decorations and medals[edit]

Silver Star Medal ribbon.svg Silver Star
Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon.svg Distinguished Flying Cross
Purple Heart ribbon.svg Purple Heart
Air Medal ribbon.svg Air Medal
National Defense Service Medal ribbon.svg National Defense Service Medal
Vietnam Service Medal ribbon.svg Vietnam Service Medal

Vietnam Unknown[edit]

The grave site of Michael Blassie.

Partial skeletal remains were retrieved from the area of the crash five months after the crash. A South Vietnamese Army patrol had found the remains at a crash site in 1972, as well as an ID card, dog tags, a wallet containing a family picture, part of a flight suit, and the remnant of a pistol holster. The Vietnamese patrol turned the remains and the other crash site items over to Captain William C. Parnell, who was then serving as an operations officer at An Loc. He read the ID card. It was for Air Force Lt. Michael Blassie. Captain Parnell wrapped the remains, and the other items found at the crash site, in plastic and held them overnight.

Soon after, he turned them over to the Saigon mortuary, along with the ID card and other items. The remains were eventually sent to a search and recovery center in Thailand before being forwarded to the Army’s central identification lab in Hawaii. They were initially identified by Mortuary Affairs as Blassie. The remains were reclassified as unknown when their projected age and height were judged not to match Blassie's.[1]

Blassie's remains were designated as the unknown service member from the Vietnam War by Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan J. Kellogg Jr. during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on May 17, 1984,[2] and were transported aboard the USS Brewton to Naval Air Station Alameda. The remains were then sent to Travis Air Force Base on May 24, and arrived at Andrews Air Force Base the following day.

Many Vietnam veterans, President Ronald Reagan, and First Lady Nancy Reagan visited Blassie as he lay in state in the U.S. Capitol. An Army caisson carried his coffin from the Capitol to the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, May 28, 1984. President Reagan presided over the funeral and presented the Medal of Honor to the Vietnam Unknown. The President also acted as next of kin by accepting the interment flag at the end of the ceremony.

The Unknown Service Member from the Vietnam War—later identified as 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie—being buried on May 28, 1984

DNA identification had yet to advance to its current state when Blassie's remains were repatriated, and he lay in the Tomb of the Unknowns up to 1998, with visitors paying respects but unaware of his identity.

Articles in U.S. Veteran Dispatch in 1994 and 1996 had made the claim that Blassie was the Unknown, drawing on Defense Department records.[3][4] A CBS News report in January 1998 subsequently made the same claim. They interviewed Parnell, who was, at that time a retired Colonel living in Florida. He related his story of wrapping the remains, with the dog tags, in plastic.[3] After Blassie's family secured permission, the remains were exhumed on May 14, 1998. Based on mitochondrial DNA testing, Department of Defense scientists were able to identify Blassie's remains.[5] On June 30, 1998, the Defense Department announced that the Vietnam Unknown had been identified. On July 10, Blassie's remains were transported to his family in Saint Louis, Missouri, and were later reinterred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. The Medal of Honor bestowed upon him as the Vietnam Unknown was not transferred to Blassie after his remains were identified.[6]

Following the removal of Lt. Blassie's remains from the Tomb of the Unknowns, the marker at Arlington was replaced with one that read "Honoring and Keeping Faith with America's Missing Servicemen."[7] It was decided that the crypt would remain a cenotaph.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Michael Blassie unknown no more". National Institutes of Heath. May 3, 2006. Retrieved April 1, 2009.
  2. ^ "Vietnam's Unknown". Check-Six.com. August 15, 2011. Retrieved August 15, 2011.
  3. ^ a b "Soldier In Tomb Of Unknowns May Actually Be Known". CNN. January 20, 1998. Retrieved October 30, 2010.
  4. ^ "The Vietnam Unknown Soldier Can Be Identified". U.S. Veteran Dispatch. July 1994. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved October 30, 2010. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  5. ^ Helton, L.M. (2006): Identification of Human Remains. Part 2: DNA. In: Spitz, W.U. & Spitz, D.J. (eds): Spitz and Fisher's Medicolegal Investigation of Death. Guideline for the Application of Pathology to Crime Investigations (Fourth edition), Charles C. Thomas, pp.: 226-239; Springfield, Illinois.
  6. ^ "Defense.gov News Article: Vietnam Unknown's Medal of Honor Transfer Denied". May 25, 2015. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  7. ^ Dobkin, Adin (April 2, 2017). "The Evolution of the Tomb of the Unknowns". The Atlantic. theatlantic.com. Retrieved June 17, 2019.

External links[edit]

Honorary titles
Preceded by
Hubert Humphrey
Persons who have lain in state or honor
in the United States Capitol rotunda

May 25, 1984 – May 28, 1984
Succeeded by
Claude Pepper