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Vietnam Unknown's Medal of Honor Transfer Denied

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 25, 1998 – The Defense Department has denied a request from the family of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael J. Blassie that he receive the Medal of Honor given to the Vietnam Unknown.

Blassie's remains had been interred from 1984 until April this year at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., as those of the unknown American service member from the Vietnam era. Congress authorized the Medal of Honor to the Vietnam Unknown in 1984, but the award's not transferable, Defense Undersecretary Rudy de Leon, the department's top personnel manager, said in an Aug. 20 letter to Jean Blassie, the airman's mother.

The award, he said, is symbolic, not personal. Similar legislation bestowed the Medal of Honor on the Unknowns of World Wars I and II and the Korean War.

"The language of these laws and their legislative histories reflect that they were intended to authorize the Medal of Honor as symbolic awards to the Unknowns to represent all service members who lost their lives in these conflicts," de Leon stated. He said "the most senior officials within the Department of Defense" reviewed the request and found the department has no authority to give Blassie the award.

Blassie's remains were not identifiable when interred as the Unknown in 1984. The remains were removed in April following the Blassie family's appeal for DNA tests and possible identification. Tests confirmed Blassie's identity in June. His remains were returned to his family and reinterred in St. Louis.

"Please be assured that First Lieutenant Blassie's numerous honors and awards, to include the prestigious Silver Star recognizing his bravery in action, reflect the honorable and dedicated service he rendered to a most grateful nation," de Leon said. "It is the department's intent to keep the Vietnam Unknown Medal of Honor on display at Arlington National Cemetery as a tribute to all who, like Michael, unselfishly gave their lives in service to our nation during the Vietnam conflict."

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