Knowing the Unknown Soldier

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WASHINGTON: The Pentagon had no choice. Like some grisly version of Schroedinger’s Cat, one occupant of the Tomb of Unknowns has now been all but identified. The Unknown Soldier from Vietnam may be Air Force Lieutenant Michael Blassie, or it may be Army helicopter pilot Captain Rodney Strobridge. While the latter’s relatives would prefer not to know, Blassie’s family demands the DNA testing that will bring them a measure of closure. On Monday, top brass acquiesced, and recommended exhuming the body. As TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson says, it was the right thing to do: “You can’t be sort of unknown.”

Indeed, such disputes over remains are unlikely to happen again. “I think we have seen our last unknown soldier,” says Thompson. “The technology has gotten so good and the recovery of remains has gotten so good that we'll probably never see another one in an American conflict.” Which makes it even more important that the four unknowns in Washington be truly unknown. If Blassie/Strobridge is exhumed -- and only William Cohen can give the final go-ahead -- there is no shortage of soldiers to replace them. Literally thousands of Vietnam-era remains exist; men still truly known to God alone.