This article first appeared in the July 1994 paper edition of the U.S. Veteran Dispatch and again two-years later in the July 1996 edition.
In 1984, as a result of the U.S. government's eagerness to lay to rest a Vietnam Unknown Soldier, it interred the remains of a missing American servicemen that today can be identified and accounted for through the U.S. government Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii (CIL-HI).
The interment of that "unidentifiable" U.S. servicemen in Arlington National Cemetery, beside the Unknown from World War I, World War II and Korea was supposed to be the ultimate symbolic gesture in healing the POW/MIA issue, the Vietnam War's "sorest wound."
Instead, as it turns out, the entombment of the Vietnam Unknown was at the very best premature and at worst a politically expedient attempt to further close the books on the POW/MIA issue.
On April 13, 1984, the Defense Department chose a Vietnam Unknown from one of four sets of remains then at CIL-HI. Because of the progress in identification techniques, the Defense Department waived an administrative criteria, which had been followed in earlier wars, that only remains that were 80% complete were selected as Unknown Soldiers.
With today's advancements in technology and with CIL-HI boasting of its ability to identify remains of American servicemen from evidence as minute as a tooth fragment, remains that are 80% complete would be the worst choice for an Unknown Soldier.
The remains finally chosen by CIL-HI to be the Vietnam Unknown had been found by a South Vietnamese Army Reconnaissance team in late 1972 near An Loc, Binh Long Province, which is located 60 miles north of Saigon. The remains, which consisted of six bones, or only 3% of a skeleton, were eventually given the number by CIL-HI of X-26. Along with the X-26 remains, the reconnaissance team had brought in the remnants of a parachute, a flight suit, a pistol holder and a one man inflatable raft.
CIL-HI determined that X-26 was a Caucasian man who had been between 26 and 36 years old at the time of death.
In the surrounding area of An Loc where X-26 had been found, there had been numerous American servicemen reported missing in action, bodies not returned.
There was at least two C130s, several helicopters and an A37 fighter jet that went down in that general area during the war prior to the Fall of 1972. The remnants which were found with the bone fragments of X-26 are important pieces of a puzzle which when placed together point specifically to the identification of the Unknown Soldier of the Vietnam War.
The piece of a flight suit indicates that the Vietnam Unknown was an airman and evidence of the existence of a parachute rules out the possibility of a helicopter crew, thus focusing on the aircrews of the C130s and the pilot of the lone A37. The existence of a one man inflatable raft can be argued as a strong reason to rule out the crews of the C130s, leaving only the pilot of the A37, who would have been equipped with a one man raft.
In May 1972, near An Loc, an A37, flown by U.S. Air Force 1Lt. Michael J. Blassie, was hit by ground fire. 1Lt. Blassie's wingman saw him crash into the ground and witnessed an explosion and fire. He did not see any signs that indicated the survival of 1Lt. Blassie.
In October, 1972, the U.S. government sent a search team to the crashsite (probably in response to the remains recovered by the South Vietnamese Reconnaissance team) and found "identification media that correlated to the case."
In November, 1992, the U.S. government again visited the area of the crashsite, and found a witness who had heard about the incident. The witness, according to a U.S. government source, took U.S. government representatives to what was believed to be the exact crashsite. The crashsite, according to the source, had been severely scavenged and U.S. government investigators were unable to find anything significant pertaining to the Blassie incident. The crash crater, according to the source, was being used by a local farmer for a watering hole.
Many facts pertaining to 1Lt. Blassie's shootdown closely match those of the Unknown Soldier. CIL-HI determined the Unknown Soldier to be a male Caucasian and between 26-33 years old. 1Lt. Blassie, was a male Caucasian who, at the time he became missing in action, was 24 years old. Remnants found with the remains of the Unknown Soldier indicate that he was a fighter pilot. 1Lt. Blassie, from St. Louis, Mo., is the only fighter pilot listed Killed-In-Action/Body-Not-Returned within a 2500-square mile area of where the remains of the Unknown Soldier were found.
If the experts at CIL-HI can identify American MIAs from minute tooth fragments, as they claim, then they should be able to right this wrong by determining through DNA if the remains of 1Lt. Blassie is in the tomb of the Vietnam Unknown Soldier.