Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Pentagon: Test body in tomb // Downed pilot's family wants remains ID'd

WASHINGTON Remains of the Vietnam veteran in the Tomb of theUnknowns should be exhumed to investigate with DNA testing if theybelong to a downed Air Force pilot as his family believes, a Pentagonpanel said Monday.

Defense Secretary William Cohen said he will decide in the nexttwo weeks whether to grant the request of Air Force 1st Lt. MichaelJ. Blassie's family to have the remains exhumed for possibleidentification.

"All we ever wanted was an answer: Is that Michael Blassie ornot?" said Pat Blassie, his sister. "And we truly believe it is."Cohen said he would not decide until his general counselinvestigates whether there's any legal obstacle to the exhumation -something Pentagon officials said they don't foresee.Charles Cragin, assistant secretary of defense for reserveaffairs, said a senior Pentagon working group he led determined aftera four-month investigation that the remains - the pelvis, right upperarm and four ribs - should be exhumed."There are concerns about the sanctity of the tomb, but I thinkon balance everyone came down to what is right," Cragin said of therecommendation.The Vietnam remains were placed in the tomb at ArlingtonNational Cemetery, Va., in 1984. In separate crypts, guarded 24hours a day, there also are unidentified remains from World War I,World War II and the Korean War.Circumstantial physical evidence found with the Vietnam remainsindicates they could be those of the St. Louis pilot, whose A-37attack plane was shot down over South Vietnam in May, 1972, Craginsaid. However, other evidence, including blood type and physicalcharacteristics - based on old forensic methods - don't match, hesaid.The uncertainty led Pentagon officials to decide the only way toknow if they were Blassie's was to examine them using the latestscientific methods, including DNA matching, Cragin said.The investigation into the Tomb of the Unknowns began in Januaryafter questions were raised about the Pentagon's decision to bury theVietnam remains despite physical evidence linking them to Blassie,including personal identification and other effects found with them.His family hadn't been aware of such evidence.

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