A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

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 identity.

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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