The U.S. Defense Department is now considering opening the Tomb. The Pentagon may remove the remains of the Unknown of the Vietnam War for DNA testing.
After a seven-month hard news investigation by CBS Reporter Vince Gonzales, CBS News found the name of the person most likely buried there: highly-decorated Air Force pilot Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie of St. Louis. Documents dug out by CBS clearly indicate that Reagan administration officials and the U.S. military knew the remains could be Blassie's...and may have covered that up.
The question is: was a known battle hero buried by accident or by design?
Only DNA tests can determine with certainty whether Lt. Blassie is buried in the Tomb. The Blassie family says they just want the truth.
Many veterans support the family. Others aren't so sure. They say the Tomb of the Unknowns is now a memorial marred by controversy. And, if emptied, it could become a hollow symbol.
The Tomb of the Unknowns is the only memorial paid for with government money, remembering those who died or are missing in Vietnam. Private donations paid for the famed black wall and other monuments.
Some veterans believe too much is now known about the Unknown of the Vietnam War. Even without a name, the military knew his race, approximate age, height, and weight. They knew where he fought, and where he was found. And they suspected his branch of service.
With that information now public, some veterans say this Unknown can no longer represent all who served.
And what that really means is that there may never be another Unknown. Ever.
The reason is DNA testing. Even though recovered remains come back almost weekly from Vietnam, they are quickly identified using modern forensics and DNA testing.
When the proposal for including a Vietnam veteran in the Tomb of the Unknowns was first considered back in the late 1970's, the military suggested an empty tomb to represent all the missing and all the honored dead. That idea was discarded after an outcry from Congress and veterans' groups.
But many Americans are now asking, Isn't there honor in a nation that brings home from the battlefield all who served? Isn't there honor in a nation that has no unknowns? They say it may be time to reconsider an empty memorial, to represent those who are missing but not unknown...and by no means forgotten.
Dan Rather Reporting may be heard daily on most of the CBS Radio Network stations.
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