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Editorials from the Exponent and Telegram

The tragic journey of Michael Blassie

(Thursday, July 2) For the Pentagon, this is more than just a $400 toilet seat. The blunders leading to the disinterment of the Unknown Soldier from the Vietnam era were a monumental tragedy.

When the remains of the Vietnam serviceman were buried at the Tomb of the Unknowns in 1984, the Pentagon had a fairly good idea it might have been Air Force pilot Michael Blassie, whose plane went down in South Vietnam in 1972.

The remains that were recovered were "believed to be" those of Blassie because his identification card was found along with other evidence that an A-37 had crashed at the site.

But subsequent examination raised doubts. The bones that were found did not quite match Blassie's physical type. The test for blood type indicated that the remains might, in fact, belong to Army Capt. Rodney Strobridge.

But as the pressure grew to bury a Vietnam era serviceman at the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Pentagon found itself in a quandary. There were very few bodies that had not been identified. In the end, the remains were buried with the knowledge that they might belong to either Blassie or Strobridge.

After Blassie's family learned earlier this year from a network news reporter that their son might be buried at the Tomb, they asked that the government exhume the body and conduct DNA tests.

It certainly was not an easy request to make. It would involve disturbing hallowed ground. But Defense Secretary William Cohen said that if technology "can ease the lingering anguish of even one family, then our path is clear."

It was announced this week that the tests proved the remains were indeed those of Blassie's. He can now be returned to his family and be given a proper burial.

Certainly it would be easy to second-guess actions taken 14 years ago when there was no such thing as DNA testing. But the Pentagon should not have committed the remains if there was the slightest doubt -- and it now seems that there were doubts.

What happens now to the empty space at the Tomb? No one has any idea. "That's an unknown," said one Pentagon official on Monday, making an unintended play on words.

What is known is that because of modern-day advances, we may never have another war with unknown soldiers. And, perhaps, we won't have another opportunity for the government to make such a tragic mistake.

--James Logue


Our state shouldn't be in "rent-a-vote" business

(Thursday, July 2) There's a world of difference between what is legal and what is moral.

One scenario has become all too prevalent. An individual is paid $50, for example, to "work" for a candidate. We believe this amounts to nothing short of vote-buying.

Is it any wonder that West Virginia politics has received such a bad name?

A journalistic colleague in the Mountain State recently editorialized that Democrat John Mitchell had paid $6,200 to 124 precinct workers and Democrat Brooks McCabe paid $4,350 to 86 precinct workers. It was stated, "They want to be Kanawha County's state senators."

Shouldn't elections -- even in West Virginia -- be won or lost on the merits of platforms and ideas rather than monetary awards?

Although we haven't agreed with him all that much since he became West Virginia's attorney general, when he was on the state Supreme Court 12 years ago, Darrell McGraw wrote, "In the absence of rules and regulations ... governing the rate of remuneration, the itemization of services rendered and the disclosure of such information in statements of campaign finances, a void is created within which the unscrupulous may conceal their antidemocratic activities behind a facade of official propriety."

It was in that instance that the justices ordered Secretary of State Kenneth Hechler to regulate the payment of election day workers.

The particular case stemmed from Jay Rockefeller's 1984 campaign for U.S. Senate, when he had to pay election day workers as much as $200 each in order to get elected following his eight-year stint as governor.

Perhaps the state Legislature set a limit to the price of the election "work" at $35 afterward. So what did Governor Gaston Caperton do? He circumvented the limit by paying his workers for as much as three days' "work."

The Legislature limited remuneration to election day workers to one day only. But later, the price was increased to $50.

Perhaps West Virginia could begin a new industry: "Rent-a-vote."

More realistically, state legislators must start considering moving their state to the current day -- by outlawing the practice rather than simply dickering with the rate.

--Robert F. Stealey