1st Lt. Michael Blassie

Vietnam

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Thousands turned out to honor the memory of 1st Lt. Michael Blassie July 11 during his burial with full military honors at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis.

For 26 years the Air Force pilot remained unidentified, and since 1984 he rested in the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery until DNA tests confirmed his identity June 30.

His casket was flown to Scott AFB July 10 on an MC-130 from the 8th Special Operations Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla., Blassie's old unit in Vietnam. He was shot down May 11, 1972, while flying an A-37 on a combat mission.

Among the dignitaries attending the service were Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen; F. Whitten Peters, acting secretary of the Air Force; and Gen. Michael Ryan, Air Force chief of staff.

The Air Force Honor Guard laid his casket to rest, while a flight of F-15 Eagle fighters swooped over the ceremony in a missing man formation. A 21-gun salute followed, and an Air Force bugler played Taps as the honor guard folded the American flag draped over the casket.

"You took the progressive step in history to satisfy our mother's quest," said Air Force Reserve Capt. Pat Blassie, the lieutenant's sister, talking to distinguished guests. "History will record that your monumental step proved to be the right one. Is thank you enough? I don't think so."

After Blassie's remains were removed from the Tomb May 13, Cohen said, "We disturb this hallowed ground with profound reluctance, and we take this step only because of our abiding commitment to account for every warrior who fought and died to preserve the freedoms we cherish."