My first husband, Capt. Jerry Zimmer, was an F4B Phantom jet pilot, whose aircraft was shot down on August 29, 1969, approximately 20 miles South of Da Nang, Vietnam, after six months in country. Neither Jerry nor his navigator, 1st Lt. Al Graf, was able to eject, before the aircraft crashed into the Que Son Mountains. Initially Jerry and Al were classified as Killed in Action/No Body Recovered (KIA/NBR). Years later, both Marines were listed as MIA, along with other service members whose bodies were never recovered.
Jerry has been gone nearly a half century, and hope for recovering his remains had run out a long time ago. However, in recent years our family became involved with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), now merged with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), and learned that Jerry’s and Al’s remains might, in fact, be recoverable, so we are doing everything possible to support their efforts to make this happen and bring our guys home where they belong.
NOTE: BLOG POSTS ARE NOT UPDATED, SO INFORMATION MAY HAVE CHANGED OVER TIME.
Bringing Jerry Home...
This blog site represents the work of many people – family, friends, Marines, National League of POW/MIA Families, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) – now integrated into the newly formed Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) -- and others within the U.S. Government and elsewhere who believe that bringing home our MIAs is the fulfillment of a solemn promise that we make to our men and women in uniform.
We invite you to follow our collective journey in the quest to bring Jerry home.
DPAA REGIONAL MIA FAMILY MEETING
What has become apparent to me after years of hoping to bring home Jerry’s remains from Vietnam is the importance of learning as much as possible about the system that turns hope into reality whenever possible.
In my opinion, learning from experts like those associated with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) www.dpaa.mil, gives families, such as mine, an insider’s look at what goes on behind the scenes — both in D.C. and in Vietnam War locations, along with the Korean War and WW II.
For that reason, I try to stay connected with DPAA by attending regional family meetings and will travel to the one in Phoenix, AZ, on 28 January. Hope is wonderful, but it’s not enough when it comes to keeping a loved one’s case active or understanding the challenges involved in the process — budgets; technology; personnel; field operations; DNA; and the list goes on.
Someone gave me great advice when I became involved in Jerry’s case years ago: “Don’t assume anything.” The effort to bring home our MIAs is not on autopilot. We need to do our part. If you are able to attend the Phoenix meeting, contact your casualty officer — all numbers are listed on the DPAA website, and ask if you can still sign up. This meeting is open to MIA families from the Vietnam War, Korean War and WWII.
I will cover the Phoenix meeting and bring you up-to-date on the latest in the near future. Please stay connected.
Another important way to up your learning curve is to visit the National League of POW/MIA Families at www.pow-miafamilies.org. Dedicated to families with missing loved ones from the Vietnam War, Board Chair Ann Mills Griffiths has been in a leadership role for more than three decades and continues to oversee this very important organization. The League co-hosts a major annual meeting with DPAA in Washington, D.C., and each year MIA family members throughout the country attend, as I expect they will do so again in June, 2017. The League’s site is a great place to learn everything you want to know about the annual meeting and a lot more.
WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO
If you have ever wondered why MIA families continue to search, wait and hope for the return of remains or information of a husband, son, brother or other loved one, still missing from the Vietnam War — my generation’s war, I would offer this advice:
Make it personal and think of what it might feel like today if you lost someone you loved, after he/she went to war and never came home for burial or, in some cases, were classified as “Last Known Alive.” Leaving families with the horror of not knowing if a loved one was dead or alive is a terrible fate — did he die in a make-shift prison camp; buried somewhere in Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia; or sent to a prison in Russia, China or Hanoi. Or, for that matter, are his remains still imprisoned in the cockpit of his aircraft, after being shot down in waters off the coast of Vietnam? Whatever the circumstances, the MIA tag, pertaining to our loved ones, is a life sentence for some families.
This is the only way I can possibly describe the profound sadness that stays with many of us, who rely upon DPAA and others involved in the effort to find our loved ones’ remains or even to provide answers.
I believe that Vietnam War families are among the most committed and protective of their missing loved ones. Some of that can be traced back to the pain we experienced when the American public did not support the war, nor demonstrate compassion for our heroes who never came home — or for those that did!
Maybe this will give you some idea of why we do what we do. We don’t wish this upon anyone.
REFLECTING ON THE HOLIDAYS
Holidays are special for most American families, including MIA families, but very difficult for those of us with loved ones still unaccounted for from past wars. Several years ago, I asked my immediate family if they would allow me to post our annual Christmas picture on Jerry’s site, as a statement of solidarity for efforts to bring home his remains and those of other service members missing from the Vietnam War.
Despite not knowing what image would appear in print, from one year to another, my family has felt from the beginning that a picture is worth a thousand words, regardless of its quality — rather, it is the message that counts. Our story is that Jerry is loved and missed by his family, and we hope that his remains and those of other MIAs still unaccounted-for in Southeast Asia will be found and identified in 2017. Please say a pray — we need all the help we can get.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
I have been married to my second husband, Ron, for many years. Having served in the Vietnam War as a combat pilot flying Huey Gunships, I was confident that Ron would understand the importance of never forgetting Jerry, the father of my son, Craig, who was lovingly raised by Ron, along with our own son, Brett. Bringing home Jerry’s remains eventually became a possibility and then a passionate quest.
In 2004, Ron and I were living in Hong Kong and traveled to Vietnam — my first visit in country and Ron’s first since the war. Although it was a business trip this time for Ron, we both went with the hope of visiting Jerry’s crash site.
Even though that visit 13 years ago was largely unsuccessful in terms of our immediate goal, it was the beginning of our quest to visit Jerry’s site and hopefully bring home his remains. Without Ron’s help, I probably would not have lasted more than six months, considering the psychological, physical and financial stress of our quest. He has guided me through a world that I thought I knew but was way out of my league.
YOUR CONTINUED SUPPORT IS IMPORTANT
The support of family, friends, veterans and our active duty military is appreciated. In many ways, all of you keep the system running at what we hope is “full” speed.
Our loved ones gave their lives for this great country. In return, we are asking that President Donald Trump, U. S. Congress and Secretary of Defense General James Mattis provide DPAA with a permanent Director; budget approval/resources to escalate recovery efforts in Southeast Asia; and exclusion from a hiring freeze because of the agency’s military mission and structure.
DPAAs efforts to repatriate the remains of our MIAs to the United States are close to the finish line in Southeast Asia. Over the years, DPAA and its predecessors have worked hard to develop a strong relationship with the Vietnamese government — together we are making a difference in finding remains and becoming allies. We need to keep up the momentum.
I wasn’t looking forward to hanging David’s Christmas stocking this year. I’ve found that most of the things in life I didn’t want to do – because they remind me of people or things that aren’t here anymore – are things I really need to do.
So I lifted his stocking carefully out of its box like Mom used to do. Seeing a tiny hole in the heel, I turned it inside out to sew it. A few old, brittle scraps of wrapping paper fell out. What gift, I wondered, what year? What little thing had our parents placed there in the stocking to be found on Christmas morning – was it for David or for me?
An aunt knit woolen Christmas stockings for all three of the Kink children years before I was born. The names Paul, David, and Susan were knitted in bright red above a fuzzy white Santa face, and a pair of crossed candy canes. They were magnificent, large enough to hold an apple, an orange, a box of chocolate-covered cherries, a can of smoked oysters, and a Life Saver Sweet Storybook. I was born last, nine years after my sister, so I never got my own knitted stocking, but I loved the look and feel of the others. They were a special part of our Christmas.
The year that David was killed in Vietnam, Mom started filling his stocking for me. It made me feel special, sharing my big brother’s stocking like that. Even though I got everything that was inside. It was still David’s stocking, and it still needed to be hung up at Christmas.
Looking back, I think it was one of the important lessons of my eighth year: you don’t have to quit hanging a person’s Christmas stocking, just because they’re not there to see it. For so many years, I watched Mom brush away tears as she would lift it so carefully out of its box, and pack it away just as carefully after Christmas. We eventually sent Paul’s stocking off to him in Montana, and Susan’s stocking off to her in South Carolina. Mom went into the nursing home, but David’s stocking stayed right here with me. It has never missed a Christmas.
And now, Mom is gone. And now, I am lifting David’s stocking out of its box and wiping away a few tears, just like Mom used to do.
This year, I shed tears for people I don’t even know, the more than 2,000 families who will wonder if they should hang a Christmas stocking this year. The families of the young men and women who, like my own brother in 1969, went off to fight a war and never came back.
The families wondering if you ever stop thinking about them.
I wish to the core of my soul that there was something I could do or say that would let them know they aren’t alone. What I really wish, is that the war would end, and there wouldn’t have to be any more families like mine, left wondering.
What do you do with a person’s Christmas stocking after they’re gone?
You carefully take it out of its box, you hang it up, you fill it with treats or gifts. Or just memories . . . and then, you go on.
A sensitive, beautifully-written Christmas story by Julie Kink Sprayberry, published 11 years ago in memory of the brother she barely new — David — who was killed in Vietnam when an UXO detonated and took down his LOH after he’d been in country one month. Like so many who lost loved ones long ago in Vietnam, Julie’s story will resonate in its simplicity but very special message. My thanks to Julie for allowing me to publish her story, as we celebrate another Christmas day without David, Jerry and so many others who died while serving our country.