Army Secretary Marsh had favored Veterans Day, Nov. 11, for the ceremony, but that would be five days after the election. The interment date selected was May 28, Memorial Day, 1984.
The set of remains Weinberger chose was the only one available: X-26.
Army Maj. Johnie Webb, a decorated Vietnam veteran, took charge of the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii in 1982. He was familiar with the Blassie case. He also understood the signals Washington was sending.
For years, the White House and Pentagon had been pressuring the lab to find an unknown soldier from the Vietnam War. In 1983, Webb was presented with papers to sign, certifying that the X-26 remains could not be identified. He refused. “The remains weren’t identified,” he says. “That didn’t mean they would never be.” The Pentagon gave him six months to identify X-26 or sign the certification.
Webb, a retired lieutenant colonel, says he’s tired of being blamed for mistakes that were made. Although he had doubts about the X-26 designation, “that was the scientific judgment, and I had to go with the scientists.”
Furue, the senior anthropologist who had recommended the reclassification to “unknown,” held out hope that if more remains were found, the identity of X-26 could be known. He, too, was adamantly opposed to the Arlington burial.
But two months before the Memorial Day burial date, waiting was no longer an option. On March 21, Webb, calling himself “the last holdout,” signed the certification.
Soon afterward, Webb says, Army headquarters in the Pentagon took steps to make sure the remains destined for Arlington would never be identified. On April 4, he says, he was ordered to remove from the X-26 file any information connecting Blassie to the Vietnam Unknown. All laboratory documents associated with the selection process were ordered destroyed, as were the crash-site artifacts.
It was at this point, in what he describes as “the struggle of my life,” that Webb decided to stop following orders. He began writing memos for his personal file, and instead of destroying the crash-site items — some of which, such as the life raft, could be tied directly to Blassie — he hid them in the one place no one would ever look.
“I’m a Vietnam vet,” Webb says. “I had to do what was right. I put the evidence in the casket ... with X-26.”
May 28, 1984
A horse-drawn caisson bearing the Unknown Soldier moved slowly along Constitution Avenue on its way to Arlington Cemetery. An estimated 250,000 people lined the Memorial Day procession route. Military bands played, and a series of 21-gun salutes sounded in the distance. Because of low clouds, an Air Force flyover had to be canceled.