Jean Blassie lost her son -- twice. The first time, he was killed, his aircraft shot down while flying a mission during the Vietnam War in 1972.
The next time, the Air Force lost him. Actually, they had his remains and his military I.D. But the military didn't tell anyone, officials later explained, because they said they couldn't be certain that it was he.
By the time his mother found out where he was, his remains were entombed in the Tomb of the Unknowns in Washington. She took on the military, won, and brought him back for burial in his hometown of St. Louis.
By then, it was 1998.
Twenty-six years after he died, 1st Lt. Michael Blassie came home. He was unknown no more because of the determination of his mother and siblings.
Jean Frances Blassie died 15 years later, on Tuesday (June 11, 2013), at Mercy Hospital St. Louis in Creve Coeur. She was 90 and had been a longtime Florissant resident before moving to Mary Queen and Mother Center in St. Louis. She suffered a stroke in 2004 and recently was diagnosed with pneumonia, her family said Thursday.
For Mrs. Blassie, the fight to recover her son's remains took a dramatic turn during a family meeting in November 1997 at her apartment in Florissant. She and her four children met to try to figure out what to do.
Patricia Blassie, today a colonel with the Air Force Reserve who lives in Georgia, told her family of a phone call she had received in 1994 from a former Army Green Beret. He had written an article he said proved that her brother had been buried in the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery on May 28, 1984.
The writer had been combing through military records, he said, and found that the Air Force had found the wreckage of Michael's plane five months after he was shot down, 60 miles north of Saigon. The date, location of the crash, bone fragments from the body and remnants of his flight suit and parachute led to the conclusion that it was Michael.
Patricia Blassie took the information to officials at the Air Force Casualty Office. They denied it.
"I wouldn't think there was a known soldier in the Tomb of the Unknowns," she recalled thinking. "That just couldn't be. I saluted smartly" and put the thought aside.
Three years later, in 1997, Vince Gonzales, a young correspondent with CBS News, contacted the Blassies. "I think I know where Michael is," he said, producing a paper trail that led to Arlington Cemetery.
Jean Blassie called the family together for a round-the-table discussion.
George, the youngest son, said that being buried in the Tomb of the Unknowns was a great honor and that maybe the family should leave Michael there.
After hours of discussion, Jean Blassie looked at her children and said, "For 26 years, we have been told that Michael was never found," according to an article in Checkpoints magazine. "Yet he was found five months after he was shot down and then buried without our knowledge in the Tomb of the Unknowns. ... I want to bring my son home."
In January 1998, CBS Evening News broke the story: The military had hidden pilot Michael Blassie's identity from his family and the public.
The Blassies went public, calling for DNA tests to prove that the remains were Michael's. Defense Secretary William Cohen announced that the remains would be disinterred and the DNA tested.
The test results showed a match with DNA samples from Jean Blassie and her oldest daughter.
On July 11, 1998, Michael Blassie was buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Four low-flying F-15s flew overhead, with one pulling out of formation in a "missing man" salute.
"He basically sat on a shelf from 1972 to 1984," Patricia Blassie said.
She said then-President Ronald Reagan had wanted to add a Vietnam War soldier to the Tomb of the Unknowns, joining the unknown soldiers from World War I and II and the Korean War.
"But it doesn't make it right that we interred a known soldier," she added.
Jean Frances Adrian grew up in Jennings. Her father died in a traffic accident when she was 9 or 10. She attended Wellston High School but left after three years to work as a nurse's aide at DePaul Hospital.
She met George Blassie, a butcher, at a ballroom dance. They married and had five children. He died in 1991.
At 67, Mrs. Blassie went back to work as a sales clerk at Dillard's. She worked until she was 82.
She was sad about Michael's death but was happy to have him back, Patricia Blassie said. "She stood strong, did what was right and led the family."
A funeral Mass will be at 9:30 a.m. today at Rose Philippine Duchesne Church, 2560 Parker Road, Florissant. The body will be cremated and her remains buried at Calvary Cemetery with her parents and grandparents.
Survivors, in addition to her daughter Patricia, include a son, George Blassie of St. Peters; and two other daughters, Judy Cozad of Creve Coeur and Mary Hart of Florissant.
|Air Force POW-MIA Vietnam War|