Our Mission:Jerry was an F4 Phantom 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 because of the altitude and trajectory of the aircraft. They were initially 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 – regardless of their original classification.
Although Jerry has been gone for four decades, our family learned that his remains might be recoverable, so we are doing everything possible to work with JPAC to make this happen and bring Jerry home to the United States where he belongs.
Bringing Jerry Home...
This blog represents the work of many people – family, friends, Marines, JPAC team members 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. Although it has been four decades since my first husband, Capt Jerry A. Zimmer, USMC, lost his life in Vietnam, we are hopeful that his remains will soon be repatriated. We invite you to follow our collective journey in the quest to bring Jerry home.
For the past several years, DPMO has produced a special poster for National POW/MIA Recognition Day. These posters are poignant reminders of our continued respect for those service members who paid the ultimate price on behalf of our country and that the mission to bring home their remains will never end. The 2014 poster is one of my favorites.
National POW/MIA Recognition Day is observed annually on the third Friday of September in honor of the brave men and women of the armed services, who are still missing from past wars — namely, WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam War and the Cold War. Each are officially listed as POW/MIA, and this special day is one in which the US Government renews its commitment to do everything possible to bring them home to their families and to the country for which they made the ultimate sacrifice. The 2014 event falls on the 19th this year and is traditionally observed at government installations, including the Capitol and White House, along with multiple locations where active duty military, veterans, families and other patriotic Americans gather to remember these special heroes.
Although formal observances may differ, many will include the very recognizable POW/MIA flag flying below the American flag. This black flag made its debut after the Vietnam War, and its presence continues to move Americans, who now know what it signifies and that it has come to represent all POW/MIA service members from past wars. In more recent years the Department of Defense began producing a unique poster, specifically for POW/MIA Recognition day. They are true works of art that always send a powerful message, and the 2014 poster is no exception, as noted above. The inscription on the poster says it best: “Missing … Seeking Answers.”
Many families with loved ones still missing would give anything to turn back the clock and be given just one do-over. But we all know that do-overs are trendy ways of saying second chances, and our plight is not a game but rather a dream that the remains of our husbands, fathers, sons and brothers will be found one day, and allow us to close the circle.
As the Department of Defense prepares to debut a new agency that will try to speed up global recovery efforts of our MIAs, I wish them success and hope all MIA families and veterans will help make it work. There will be opportunities for many of us to become partners in this very complex effort. With the threat of terrorism looming large and the drawdown of military troops leaving us with fewer service members than post-WWII, please make National POW/MIA Recognition Day more than an annual observance — let’s pledge to help the DoD get the job done.
Many of us with husbands, dads, sons and brothers still missing from past wars are outraged by the ranting that does not appear to benefit our MIAs, but rather to satisfy personal vendettas.
This blog is not meant to defend DPMO and JPAC, but to highlight ignorance of the system and destructive comments at a time when families are looking ahead. Nor is it meant to denigrate all the good people who use social media to stay connected with the MIA issue and have come to understand the difficulties that we all face in bringing home our loved ones at his point in history.
Half Baked Apology
I recently learned of a site that had published a blog focusing on people – namely within JPAC — being “fired” or likely to be “removed” when the new agency is expected to officially stand up in January 2015. Bold headlines singled out Scientific Director, Tom Holland, PhD, as being “fired” from his job as the former head of JPACs Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) at Hickam AFB in Hawaii.
Those of us who regularly report on major changes within the accounting community have made it clear to our followers that the new agency selected the office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner to assume all duties involved with MIA identifications – not surprising with the drawdown of troops in harm’s way and within the military, in general, according to the current picture. The Medical Examiner is highly qualified, and I believe he will have a lot to offer and be amazed at the enormity of the new job.
Also mentioned as being “dismissed” in the same blog were Dr. John Byrd, Director of the CIL, and his deputy Dr. William Belcher. (The blog “admin” – no byline — wrote a strange apology the following day, saying that Bryd; Belcher; along with JPAC Commander Maj Gen Kelly McKeague; and Johnie Webb, Deputy to the Commander for External Relations and Legislative Issues were “denying that they have been fired and they are correct, for now.” Not much of an apology in my books.
Not only was the reporting irresponsible, but it was filled with inaccuracies, a lack of sufficient attribution and disrespectful to people that don’t deserve that type of treatment. The writer obviously knows nothing about sequestration and its effect on identifications; budget cuts; co-mingled, stored remains treated with preservatives before finding their way to the CIL; costs involved with identification of remains not suitable for DNA, along with hundreds of other challenges faced by the lab.
To say that Holland “has squandered hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars and has few identifications to show for it,” was reckless. Holland was brought in more than 20 years ago, to restore faith in the system among families like mine that identifications of their loved ones were accurate beyond a reasonable doubt. The science of DNA has progressed rapidly, cutting down on the long waiting period for identifications, and the CIL has used it whenever possible.
Sometimes extracting DNA from remains is not the problem. Instead, it can be the lack of a familial reference sample – often Mitochondrial DNA. No matching DNA typically means that the lab must hold off on making an identification or use other means. Many of the WWII cases have been the toughest to identify, because the case histories lack sufficient data to locate and/or identify remains, and sometimes it takes a monumental effort to find the family of the deceased, seven decades after the occurrence.
DPMO has been heavily involved in WWII cases, along with Casualty Offices from the respective Armed Services. JPACs role, in general, has been to conduct field work associated with well-researched cases – conducting investigations, excavations and hopefully, repatriations leading to identifications. (The removal of remains of ‘Unknowns’ located in Memorial Cemeteries worldwide is not a JPAC decision, but apparently the DoD is currently working on this issue for future recoveries.)
Ignorance No Excuse
The writer said “it is widely expected” that Maj Gen McKeague and Johnie Webb, will also be removed “along with others being held responsible for failing to recover the remains of missing American service members.” Maj Gen McKeague is an active duty military officer serving a tour of duty during one of the most difficult periods in the accounting community’s history. If Maj Gen McKeague gets orders elsewhere, he will probably go but not because he failed in his job. Webb has been with the accounting community for decades, and the new agency will need people with experience to help maneuver the complexity of the system, but I have no idea where that decision stands.
Changes will occur within the accounting community, as they do in Corporate America with a merger, and those holding the short straw can be out of a job; however, decisions about who stays and who remains generally are made for the betterment of the organization – not because someone outside the system thinks that getting rid of certain people — they don’t like — will ensure success. That is naïve.
The remnants of war are not pretty — I learned that a long time ago. I have found that people ignorant of facts about battlefield deaths; ‘Unknowns’ interred globally in Memorial Cemeteries; and identifying thousands of MIAs throughout the world don’t understand what this is all about. Yet, they write with such conviction. When I was in journalism school many years ago, a professor reminded me that in non-fiction writing, 80 percent of the story involves research, and the remaining 20 percent writing. My advice to whomever is behind the blog described in this post, please spend a little more time on research and less on writing.