Veterans Day brings out emotions for St. Louis loved ones of those missing in action
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s online database lists more than 8,300 Missouri and Illinois troops who served in World War II, the Cold War, Korea and Vietnam as missing in action. Veterans Day holds special meaning for their loved ones left wondering what happened.
Patricia Blassie, who grew up with her siblings in north St. Louis, is familiar with those emotions.
Her brother was shot down over Vietnam in 1972 and designated as KIA, BNR: killed in action, body never recovered. U.S. military officials decided it was too dangerous to stay in enemy territory to locate Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Blassie after he was brought down.
“They were in a murderous hail of fire, and their lives were in jeopardy,” Patricia Blassie said. “So, when they saw no sign of life, they pulled out. And that’s what we were told as a family.”
20 years without answers
Roughly two decades later, the family, working with an investigative reporter, got access to information that strongly suggested Michael’s remains were in the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.
“There were hundreds of documents with Michael’s name on them and decisions that were made about him after he was found on Oct. 31 of 1972, 5½ months after he was shot down,” said Blassie.
They included an ID card and details about the remains going to an identification lab in Hawaii. Blassie said eventually Michael’s name was removed from the reports.
“And then, he was the selected one, but all unbeknownst to my mom and dad.”
The family decided the remains should be removed from the tomb for DNA testing so the truth would be known. Blassie’s mother wanted to bring her son home.
“We, as a family, made a pact to honor our mother,” Blassie remembered.
Blassie’s mother gave a blood sample to a Scott Air Force Base medical team to help with the successful identification.
Michael’s remains were moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery after being in the tomb from 1984 to 1998.
Honoring a fallen son
His father, George C. Blassie, a World War II veteran, is also buried at the cemetery. He died before Michael was identified but made sure his son was mentioned on his tombstone.
“So my mom stood strong to bring him home. My dad wanted his memory to live along with his,” Patricia Blassie said.
She also is a veteran, retiring from the Air Force in 2018.
Even though there was a 10-year age gap, she thinks fondly of the early years with her brother.
“Whether it was academics, or athletics, or if he sold newspapers on the street corners of north St. Louis," she said, "he was always working hard.”
Veterans Day also brings emotions for Des Peres resident Sandy Davis. Her husband, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Roger Innes, was shot down in Vietnam only 16 months after their wedding.
“He was kindhearted. He worked hard. He worked in the steel mills when he was in high school to help pay the bills to go to college,” remembered Davis.
She’s from Granite City. He grew up in Chicago. The two met at Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Missouri.
Innes had never flown in an airplane before going to a military base in Florida to learn how to be a pilot.
“He was flying the F-4 in Vietnam, and he was only on the line, I think, seven days when he disappeared. So, it was pretty quick.”
Davis received word her husband was missing in a phone call with his sister. Davis was not convinced, aware that some people opposed to the war would prank call relatives of military personnel.
That quickly changed after she hung up the phone.
“It wasn’t 30 seconds later and the knock was on the door,” she said.
Missing for decades
Innes’ remains were found 33½ years after he was shot down on Dec. 27, 1967.
Davis leaned on family and friends to get through the emotions. Eventually, she got over her fear of speaking and played a key role with the National League of POW-MIA Families. It involved a lot of media interviews and speaking with ambassadors of many countries to make sure prisoners were treated humanely.
“We were opening ourselves up to ridicule. We were spit upon,” Davis remembered.
Many who opposed the war told her Robert should not have been over there in the first place.
“That’s hard to take, when you’ve lost someone. But that’s just how Vietnam was,” she said.
Moving forward after devastating loss
Eventually, she remarried, and she credits her current husband, Bob Davis, a veteran of the Missouri National Guard, with bringing her out of a deep hole.
And she looks back philosophically on her time as the wife of a pilot listed as MIA.
“I never wondered, why me? Or why Roger? It was always, why not?”
Davis added, “What would protect one person versus another person from such a horrific event in their life?”