That would be the same official explanation the Blassie family would hear for the next 26 years.
“My father, who served in Normandy during World War II, never got over losing Michael,” says Patricia Blassie, who was 13 years old when her brother, the oldest of five siblings, died. “He and Michael were very close. Dad set up a little memorial in the basement and would go down there all the time and just sit.” George Blassie, Michael’s father, died in 1991.
Nearly six months after Blassie’s plane was shot down, a South Vietnamese Army patrol located the crash site. A short distance away it made another discovery, reported in a radio log: “1 U.S. pilot’s body with ID Card, 1st LT BLASSIE, MICHAEL JOSEPH, and one Beacon radio and two compasses and one US flag and one parachute.” A rubber raft, portions of a holster and a flight suit were also found. The “body” consisted of six bone fragments.
Among the personal belongings recovered was a wallet. Inside was a photograph of Blassie’s family. The American operations officer in An Loc, Army Capt. William Parnell, kept the remains with him that night.
The next morning, the bones and other items were placed in a plastic bag and handed to a departing helicopter crew chief.
On Nov. 2, 1972, they were turned over to the Saigon Mortuary, where Army Capt. Richard S. Hess signed off on the list of items received, including the wallet and Blassie’s ID, stating his height (6 feet) and weight (200 pounds). From South Vietnam, the bones — and a skeletal chart with the notation: “BTB [Believed to Be] Lt. Blassie, Michael Joseph” — were sent to a search and recovery center at Camp Samae San, Thailand, and then, in 1976, to Hawaii for analysis at the Army’s Central Identification Laboratory (CIL-HI). In the mid-1970s, the main responsibility of the laboratory was identifying Vietnam War dead, a task sometimes complicated by sparse supporting evidence. Missing from the items listed as received in Vietnam were the wallet and ID, which had been lost or stolen between there and Hawaii.
Tadao Furue, chief physical anthropologist at the Hawaii facility, began identifying Korean War casualties in 1951. In cases with little to go on, Furue, now deceased, would attempt to calculate age, height and other characteristics from bone fragments — a controversial technique he developed called “morphological approximation.” Results were then compared with medical records to establish identity.
In a letter dated Dec. 4, 1978, Furue wrote that after “processing” the remains in the Blassie case, the age was estimated to be 26 to 33 years. “Blassie was 24 years 1 month 7 days at the time of his death and this is outside the estimated age bracket,” he wrote. The “living stature at the time of death” was estimated to be between 65.2 and 71.5 inches. Blassie’s height was 72 inches. It was also determined, by testing a single hair found in the portion of flight suit, that the “blood type of the remains disagrees with the recorded blood type ‘A’ for Blassie.”