October 1999/November 1999
POW/MIA Affairs Committee Report
Honoring And Keeping Faith
By Bob Necci, Chair
On September 17, 1999, National POW/MIA Recognition Day, Secretary of
Defense William S. Cohen officiated over a ceremony at the Tomb of the
Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.
One part of the ceremony was the dedication of the inscription on the
cover of the empty crypt of the Vietnam Unknown. It reads: "Honoring and
Keeping Faith with America's Missing Servicemen,'' an epilogue to the events
that began on May 11, 1972, when Air Force 1st Lt. Michael J. Blassie,
while flying a combat mission in his A-37 over South Vietnam, was brought
down by enemy anti-aircraft fire. Several days later, remains were recovered
and turned over to American authorities. Officially, the remains were listed
as "believed to be'' those of Blassie.
Known testing methods, however, could not determine conclusively the
U.S. Army authorities at the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii
determined in the late 1970s that the identification of the remains was
improbable and reclassified the remains as "unknown''. In 1983, a
decision was made by DOD officials to inter these remains in the crypt
of the Vietnam Unknown. President Reagan presided over the ceremony on
November 11, 1984.
Twelve years later, following the receipt of a letter from Michael J.
Blassie's mother, Secretary Cohen ordered the opening of the crypt and
exhumation of the remains. Newly developed mitochondrial DNA analysis confirmed
that the remains were Blassie's. In February 1998, the Pentagon announced
that the crypt would remain empty and that an inscription would be carved
into its cover.
In President Clinton's annual POW/MIA Recognition Day proclamation,
he said: "On National POW/MIA Recognition Day, we remember with profound
gratitude those who suffered captivity and those whose fate remains unknown.
Many American POWs were tortured at the hands of their captors; all experienced
the ordeal of being held against their will and the anguish of indefinite
separation from their families and their homeland.
"Today we also honor the valiant families of our fellow citizens who
remain missing--families who have had to suffer not only the absence of
their loved ones but also the uncertainty of their fate. As Americans,
we remain unshakable in our resolve to achieve the fullest possible accounting
of those missing and to strive to bring home the remains of those who have
died. Only by doing so can we begin to acknowledge the debt we owe
to these patriots and assuage the grief of the families they left behind
for the sake of our Nation.''
The Latest Numbers
The following summarizes American efforts to achieve the fullest possible
accounting: 2,054 Americans remain unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War:
Army: 651 (9 in northern Vietnam, 497 in southern Vietnam, 110 in Laos,
35 in Cambodia. Navy: 417 (286 in northern
Vietnam, 92 in southern Vietnam, 28 in Laos, 3 in
Cambodia) Air Force: 683 (233 in northern Vietnam, 165 in southern
Vietnam, 268 in Laos, 17 in Cambodia) Marine
Corps: 263 (24 in northern Vietnam, 203 in southern Vietnam, 22 in Laos,
14 in Cambodia) Coast Guard:1 in southern Vietnam
In addition, 39 civilians remain unaccounted for from the Vietnam War:
22 in southern Vietnam; 12 in Laos; 5 in Cambodia.
A total of 529 Americans have been accounted for since 1973: 391
in Vietnam; 129 in Laos; 7 in Cambodia; and 2 in China. Since 1993, during
the Clinton Administration, 160 Americans have been accounted for: 88 in
Vietnam; 66 in Laos; and 6 in Cambodia.
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