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Tuesday, June 30, 1998 Published at 01:51 GMT 02:51 UK

World: Americas

US tomb's unknown soldier identified

The remains were removed in a solemn ceremony

Forensic tests in the United States have confirmed that the remains exhumed from the Tomb of the Unknowns in Washington were those of an air force pilot shot down during the Vietnam war.

[ image: Michael Blassie: the 'unknown soldier']
Michael Blassie: the 'unknown soldier'
Michael Blassie was shot down over Vietnam in 1972 but when his remains were found many years later it was impossible to conclusively identify them.

They were interred alongside those of other fallen servicemen and women at Arlington national cemetery in 1984.

The Defence Department took the unprecedented decision to order the Tomb to be opened and the remains removed for DNA testing following pressure from the airman's family.

They had insisted there was compelling evidence that the body found at the crash site was that of their son. Circumstantial evidence included identification tags and a parachute, but was not backed up by other evidence.

Last month the Defence Secretary, William Cohen, agreed that there were grounds to believe that the body may have been that of one of two servicemen.

In an unprecedented decision, he ordered the tomb to be unlocked and the remains were removed for DNA tests, which had not been available when the body was first discovered.

The Blassie family are now waiting to give the former pilot a last farewell at a marked burial site 26 years after his final mission.

The Tomb of the Unknowns contains the remains of unidentified servicemen from several conflicts.

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