The Ithaca Journal from Ithaca, New York on March 6, 1998 · 12
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The Ithaca Journal from Ithaca, New York · 12

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Ithaca, New York
Issue Date:
Friday, March 6, 1998
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12
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2B Today's TopicState The Ithaca Journal Friday, March 6, 1998 Around New York li Vietnam's Unknown Soldier j: The Defense Department gave the nation closure I on Vietnam. Was it at a family's expense? fi f rn r-, .70- ; WHO IS HE? 77;e cozn ofit? unknown soldier ; om ze Vietnam War rests at the amphitheater ', near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before its ', burial at Arlington National Cemetery in 1984. Vie Known By CHIP CREWS Tlte Washington Post FLORISSANT, Mo The six bones four ribs, a pelvis and a humerus have lain in their honored resting place for nearly 14 years. When they were placed in Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknowns on Memorial Day 1984, it marked a belated gesture of national closure after the Vietnam War. There the matter lay, at least officially, until last month, when the Defense Department acknowledged that the bones had been found with money, shreds of a pilot's flight suit, part of an ejection seat and two ID cards belonging to Air Force 1st Lt. Michael J. Blassie. The 24-year-old pilot was shot down in May 1972, five months before the remains were recovered. The announcement, accompanied by the news that the Pentagon is considering digging up the bones for DNA tests has embarrassed the department, provoked a congressional outcry and transformed Michael Blassie's mother and siblings as they gather here in an effort to bring him home. Pain of death renewed For Jean Blassie, grief is an old and strict acquaintance. "My younger son said, 'Mom, you never cry,' " she recalls, sitting in her apartment dining area with 'He'd a picture of her firstborn. "I told him, 'I don't cry. I almost cry, but I don't cry.' That resolve has been tested in the two weeks since news reports suggested strongly that the Vietnam War remains in the Tomb of the Unknowns are Michael's. "It's as if he just died," says her daughter Pat Blassie, who drove from Atlanta to be with her mother in this St. Louis suburb. "It's really been a bad week," allows her mother, a widow since 1991. "Like a funeral." A funeral with a particular purpose. "We want the truth," she says. "We want to bring him home." The Blassie family had heard speculation for several years that the bones in the Vietnam crypt were Michael's. "But we never had any proof," says Pat, 39. For eight years after the remains were discovered, they were officially listed as "believed to be Michael J. Blassie," although the family was never told that. But for reasons that are unclear, the bones were ultimately reclassified as unknown. When the news was about to break, Jean Blassie called a family meeting. Her other children, Judy Cozad, 46, Mary Hart, 43, and George Blassie, 36, all live in the St. Louis area. Pat, a public affairs officer in the Air Force Reserve and the family's chief press representative, packed her laptop, printer and fax machine before heading home. "My mother said she wanted to bring him home, and every family member agreed," Pat says. "Every member has to agree." Their decision has sent them careering through a maze of unexpected discoveries, unfamiliar questions and surprisingly fresh pain. Still, each of them calls it a blessing. "I feel that knowing it's given us a little peace," Jean says. "It's always 4 ft bi W i H id hi - 0 Pentagon recently revealed that articles found with the remains indicate they may be those of Lt. Michael Blassie. His family is on a quest for answers. only unto God? been in the back of your mind where is he? Even though he was reported killed in action ... you wonder if he really was." Pause. "I didn't dwell on that. I couldn't." The identity puzzle Michael Blassie's A-37 attack plane went down May 11, 1972, near An Loc, 60 miles north of Saigon. Because of an ongoing North Vietnamese offensive, it wasn't until October that the bones were found by South Vietnamese troops, together with the IDs and the other articles. "But between the time those remains were found and the time they arrived at the U.S. mortuary in Saigon, those identifying remains became separated from the skeletal remains," says Larry Greer, spokesman for the Pentagon's Defense POW-Missing Personnel Office. The IDs have never been recovered. But in any case, for the Pentagon, their proximity to the six recovered bones doesn't prove anything. "If you had an auto accident and there were unidentifiable remains with a driver's license, that obviously wouldn't be enough to. ID the body," Greer says, adding that some American soldiers gave their IDs to others. "Why people would want to give up their probably be a general by now.' rW Not Jean Blassie, mother fro T' "J . ; ; Michael arrived in Viet IDs I can't imagine. But it did happen in Vietnam." From Saigon, the remains were shipped to the Central Identification Laboratoiy-Hawaii. It was there that in 1980 their classification was changed from "believed to be Michael Blassie." In the early 1980s, the Reagan administration was being pressured to add a set of remains from the Vietnam War to the Tomb of the Unknowns. The move was seen as an overdue gesture of reconciliation, as well as a display of support for the families of those still missing in action. Lawmakers and MIA activists have suggested the Pentagon, unable to find an unidentified body, destroyed documents identifying Michael Blassie's rerriaias. What happens if it's him? Not so, says Greer. He acknowledges that documentation relating to the selection process was destroyed, but says that is traditional in the designation of unknown soldiers they are, after all, supposed to remain unknown. The remains were sent to Washington on May 25, 1984, and lay in state for three days at the Capitol. An estimated 250,000 people filed past the coffin to pay their respects. On May 28 the bones were transported by caisson to the cemetery, stopping briefly at the new Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Then came the news of last month. The Blassie family now hopes the government will agree to exhume the coffin for a DNA test that can establish identity through genetic markers in the maternal line. Should the test go as the family expects, Jean Blassie will be told that the few bones from the tomb are those of her older son. If not, Pat says, "At least we'll hi Ih d u m taK 3..,-g-w The Associated Press know the truth, Obviously it will be disappointing because we'll still wonder, 'Where is Michael Blassie?' " If the Vietnam soldier's remains were exhumed and turned out to be Michael Blassie's, would there be another set to place in the tomb? "That's not really something I can address," says Greer, pointing out that identification efforts are ongoing at the laboratory. Learning from the loss Members of Missouri's congressional delegation have been sympathetic and very attentive. Rep. James Talent (R), Jean Blassie's congressman, came to the house to offer his support, and Republican Sens. John Ashcroft and Christopher Bond telephoned and have spoken on the family's behalf. Rep. William Clay (D), said that if Pentagon leaders falsified records of Michael Blassie's remains, they behaved like "common thugs." The family doesn't agree. "We just want the truth, and we want to move forward," says Jean. "Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody." Pat: "We have a great government. People were making decisions. We weren't there. It's hard to know the thought processes they nam in January 1972, and at when his one-man fighter crashed four months later, he was flying his 132nd mission. "It must have been hectic over there," his mother says. "We had an abundance of targets. "They threw up a lot of antiaircraft fire. Mike was killed attacking a gun site." Retired Col. Mel Ledbetter was his commanding officer. From his home in Tennessee, he remembers the young fighter pilot as "a fellow that always had a smile" and "a very good, aggressive pilot. ... You could tell he was a comer." In an autobbgraphical sketch he was assigned to write after being transferred to Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., Michael noted the pleasure his "middle-class family" took in his having attended the Air Force Academy. "Even more important to them was the fact that they knew I was not associated with any so called peace movement," he continued. "My father would rather see me dead than to 'cop out' on my country." Of the war, Jean Blassie says simply, "He believed those people needed help over there." In the short time since their story found its way into the headlines, the Blassies have heard from several people who knew Michael an old girlfriend who says he changed her life, an admiring underclassman from the academy, a couple of people who named sons for him. - "We have learned so much," says Pat. "No matter what, it's been a good thing." She brings two pictures of Michael over to the table. "He'd probably be a general by now," his mother said earlier. "He'd probably have a family. ... He had such a terrific education. He could have done anything. "In April, he'll be 50 years old." f Upstate Financial status slowly improves By MICHAEL HILL j The Associated Press ALBANY New York's cities have suffered through years of job losses, property tax increases and budget shortfalls, but a Wall Street rating agency now sees something of a silver lining amid the gloom. Moody's Investors Service said the state's hardest hit cities Buffalo, Newburgh, Niagara Falls, Troy, Utica, Yonkers have each "moderately strengthened their financial position" from the historic low point of 1995. Moody's credits a stronger state economy driven by the bull market, higher levels of government aid and prudent financial decisions by city officials for the cities' improvement. While stressing that the economic picture for the six cities is far from rosy, the analysis indicates that the groundwork has been laid for incremental improvements. "It's not like we're simply out of the woods," said Niagara Falls city administrator Anthony Restaino, "but we're slowly, slowly inching our way out." Moody's has recently upgraded the rating on general obligation bonds issued by Niagara Falls, Newburgh and Troy. Moody's gives much of the credit to the Wall Street boom and the related stronger state economy. Sales tax receipts are up in many of the cities, Moody's reported, and the state has been able to direct more aid to struggling cities. That "distressed cities aid" has meant an additional $1.2 million Tpson files $100 million suit Tlie Associated Press NEW YORK Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson filed a $100 million lawsuit Thursday against Don King, alleging that the boxing promoter cheated him out of tens of millions of dollars over more than a decade. The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan named King and his companies as defendants, alleging they acted as one entity to enrich King at the expense of a vulnerable, unsophisticated boxer who could not understand contracts. "Despite his gross conflicts of interest, King approved one-sided, unconscionable and oppressive agreements" between his companies and a boxing industry that wanted to benefit 2 attacked after parking lot dispute The Associated Press SCHENECTADY Two people were attacked after telling a woman she'd parked in a spot reserved for handicapped drivers. When Mary Sausville and Matt Otto came out of a convenience store shortly after 10 p.m. Tuesday, they saw a woman pull into a reserved spot, and pointed it out to the driver. Then the woman got back into her truck, hit the gas and charged at them, causing Otto to fall on the hood of the truck. "She hit the gas pedal and charged both of us," a shaking Sausville told WNYT-TV in Albany. "When Matt realized what was happening, he hit the hood of the truck. That's when she backed off and took off." Sausville, 36, and Otto, 25, both of Schenectady, went back into the store to call police and came out to wait for the officers to arrive. While they were waiting, the truck returned, with two women and a man carrying a stick. The three attacked Sausville, stabbing her in the lower back and hitting her with the stick. She suffered a gash Escaped boar finds home in the wild The Associated Press NORTH GREENBUSH Officials said a 200-pound domesticated wild boar escaped from its farm in Columbia County two weeks ago and was spotted 50 miles away in this Albany-area town Wednesday. "It was huge," said Cheryl Millea of North Greenbush, who saw the boar in her backyard. "My husband also said he saw little tusks on either side of his nose." Department of Environmental Conservation officials said the boar is not fierce by nature, unless cornered or provoked. "It's really just a curiosity, just as if a black-and-white pig went running through your yard with the same level of danger," said Paul Bernstein, a DEC game warden. The boar is a neutered male of a brownish color with a silver tag in its ear. Boars have been known to travel great distances, even swimming across rivers. This one has been spotted in West Sand Lake and Averill Park as well. It should have no trouble finding food, said Bernstein, as boars will eat acorns, flower bulbs, birdseed, roots and carrion. cities on the mend Cities struggle back from the brink The first figure represents the area's median family income, it's followed by the median housing value and the percent of residents living below the poverty level. Buffalo $23,887 $46,700..... 25.6 percent Newburgh $25,894 $103,100. ...26.2 percent Niagara Falls .$26,810 $45,100 18.6 percent Troy $31,255 $84,400 17.2 percent Utica - $26,757 .-...$65,900 21.7 percent Yonkers .$43,305 $228,100 ....11.0 percent UPSTATE MEDIAN $34,1 55 $74,835 11 .0 percent NYC SUBURBAN MEDIAN: .$58,302 $21 9,000 5.4 percent SOURCE: Moody's Investors Service to Niagara Falls, said Restaino. The bull market also has created additional investment income for the cities. For instance, Buffalo is expected to have a $43 million surplus in its pension account. But the Moody's report, released late last week, also gives credit to city officials for making tough decisions. Some examples cited in the report: Troy, which once built an ice hockey rink that was never occupied, has curtailed funding for such risky projects; Niagara Falls has privatized sanitation service; Buffalo contributed all additional state aid payments in last year's budget to its schools; Newburgh succeeded in winning 0 percent increases in its police union contracts for two years. In fact, Moody's said many of the cities have been successful in trimming personnel costs, which are traditionally the single biggest expense for municipalities. Newburgh, Niagara Falls and Utica all have laid off employees, while Buffalo and Troy Tyson King from the huge value of Tyson's fights, the lawsuit alleged. Peter Fleming Jr., a lawyer for King, said he had no comment on the lawsuit Thursday. The boxer has been cheated out of fair participation in deals worth more in her forehead that required 18 stitches, and was treated and released at Ellis Hospital. "The next thing I knew, we're in the street, she's been stabbed, and they just got out of there," Otto said. The attackers fled, but were arrested about 15 minutes later by police, according to Schenectady Police Lt. Michael Seber. Arrested were Errol Joseph, 25; Nicole Kennedy, 26; and Heather Kennedy, 24; all on charges of second-degree assault. All three are Schenectady residents. "It was road rage," said Sausville, her voice breaking with tears. "It exists. It definitely exists." SAVE UP TO 35 Vo Take a winter vacation at home this year and every year. Enjoy the sun and fresh airyear 'round without rain, wind and insects. Great for dinina orea. home office, sdo or exercise room, etc... Full installation or dont-yourself kits. Exclusive MC solar control glass. Free screens br summer on all windows. Call for Details. America's Largest Sunroom Company! low Coal AvtobCYo Obl.oal'Ofl Sorvyl CARSON DESIGN 22S S- FuiTON ST., ITHACA. NY 272 -MS ) have gained some work rule concessions or have modified health care contributions, according to the report; "We're tightening up city government, just as we should in business,'" said Utica Mayor Ed Hanna. ; While things are getting better for city finances, that doesn't mean they are good. Moody's assesses the continuing problems in blunt terms: "Local economies remain depressed, and median family income levels and housing values almost without exception fall below regional norms." The cities all face continuing tax base declines, unemployment rates continue to exceed both state and national averages and virtually all the cities face open contracts with police and fire unions. Moody's expects that many cities will continue to lose employers and residents. J "Nevertheless," the report said, "all of these cities have attempted ih some way to confront difficult financial constraints and have modified budget projections, work force numbers and expenditure levels to met these restrictions." . against Kin than $100 million and has been subjected to a "pattern of fraudulent conduct" that has been "financially devastating to Tyson," it said. ! King had even surrounded tlte boxer with an entourage of accountants and advisers that were actually "King puppets acting in the interests of the promoter and his companies" the lawsuit alleged. J The true loyalties were proven when Tyson recently separated, himself from the King camp-and a new accountant asked Tyson's former bookkeeper for Tyson's records. "I can't (hand them over) because the files are in cabinets owned by Don King," the lawsuit alleged the new accountant was told. ; Modal XD-500 SO Watts per channel 3-Diac CO playar Dual Auto Reveraa Cassette lOUNDS Sugg. 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