Putting It Together: Modern Biology

A photograph of Michael Blassie

Figure 1. A photo of Michael Blassie in his Air Force Academy Cadet Uniform.

Let’s return to our discussion of the unknown solider we discussed at the beginning of the module. First Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie, 24, was shot down over South Vietnam in 1972 and presumed dead.

In the early 1990s, Blassie’s family received word that his remains might be buried in the Tomb of the Unknown. They petitioned the Department of Defense to open the site and conduct DNA testing, a technology that had been unavailable when the remains were first brought to and buried in the Tomb of the Unknown. In 1998, the Tomb of the Unknown was opened and the remains of the Vietnam Unknown—previously identified as X-26—were removed.

Forensic anthropologists took the aged and damaged samples of bone for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing. Because mtDNA is passed along the maternal line, scientists compared the Unknown Soldier’s DNA against two samples submitted by First Lieutenant Blassie’s mother and sister and found a match.

On July 11, 1998, 1st Lt. Michael Blassie was buried with full military honors in Jefferson National Cemetery, Missouri, near his hometown, in the same cemetery as his father.