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.
To a child in Vietnam, this innocuous-looking object could be a toy, instead of a deadly UXO, left over from the Vietnam War. In July, US Marines will train the Vietnamese military in the latest demining techniques, through the US Pacific Command’s Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA) Program, which is also being offered to other mine-affected countries in Asia Pacific.
REMNANTS OF WAR
Vietnam has a big problem, and it won’t go away soon; however, when a contingent of United States Marines land in country, July 2013, their stopover is expected to be a step in the right direction for a country eager to resolve safety issues in order to reach new heights in the global marketplace. The Vietnamese government knows that cleaning up its environment is not an issue of going green, but rather going clean, as in demining the country — primarily in the rural areas – of its destructive explosive remnants of war (ERW) that kill and maim hundreds of its citizens every year, limit livelihoods and impede infrastructure progress. Although the number of UXO in Vietnam does not reach the levels of Laos and Cambodia, there is one statistic that places Vietnam in a class of its own.
According to an article in a back issue of the Journal of Mine Action, the province of Quang Tri in central Vietnam is one the most seriously affected regions in the world. Author Zack Wall says that since the end of the Vietnam War, nearly 7,000 casualties have been reported in this province alone—exceeding casualty totals to date for entire countries such as Bosnia & Herzegovina, Ethiopia and Kosovo, to name just a few.
Considered among the best of the best in their specialty, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, 1stExplosive Ordnance Disposal Company and others have added Vietnam to their list of humanitarian stops, as part of PACOMs Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA)program,* formed to assist countries in Asia Pacific.
Not the first U.S. military involvement in Vietnam’s post-war demining efforts, but certainly the first for these Marines whose expertise is unquestionably rare, from a standpoint of skill and experience with combat- tested technology in the Middle East, where ordnance of every type has undoubtedly reached new levels of complexity – both on the ground and in the air, exploded and unexploded.
The Marine Corps goal is to train the Vietnamese military on how to handle and dispose of UXO, using the latest demining equipment and technology, as both sides come together in a quest to rid Vietnam of its ERWs.
The issue of UXO should not to be taken lightly by visitors to Vietnam – even returning veterans, who want to visit former battlegrounds in remote areas. While time has helped to heal war wounds for many on both sides, it can do nothing to soften potential damage from UXO. I have read that 40% of the duds in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are hazardous with a 13% probability of detonation. Cluster bombs had a significant failure rate, and there were several million dropped, especially in Laos, during that time. The problem is definitely real, and when the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) conducts field operations in Vietnam and elsewhere, they always include an explosive specialist on their field teams.
UXOs – SERIOUS STUFF
As the former wife of a Marine Corps jet pilot, shot down in Vietnam and still unaccounted-for, I can attest to the concerns that villagers in the rural sectors have for UXO. When retired Lt Col Gene Mares hiked to my first husband’s crash site, deep within the Que Sons, he followed our Vietcong guide’s footsteps, never deviating from his lead, knowing that Mr. Du had made the trip many times and was very cautious . In my case, I recall visiting a crash site outside of Saigon with VFW and VVA leadership, also following our guide’s lead, every step of the way, walking single file, before arriving at the site. I commented on an area that looked to be off limits and was told that it was restricted because of UXO – no one ventured in that direction.
Helping Vietnam with its UXO problem is serious stuff and much needed. I am very pleased that our Marines will conduct their first in-country, demining training as part of PACOMs Humanitarian Mine Action program. I am certain that this effort will pay off in the end.
*NOTE: PACOMs HMA Program is also being offered in Laos, Cambodia and several other countries in need of demining training. In the case of Vietnam, winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people may also help efforts to find loved ones still unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War. This program — and similar humanitarian efforts — mean a lot to families like mine.
Our military, VRT members and local villagers worked together at my first husband’s crash site during a Phase II excavation in 2012. Had JPAC not received the recent exemption from sequestration (with conditions), this type of work would likely have been put on hold. Thanks to some behind-the-scenes support, field operations in Vietnam are back on track.
Good news is coming out of the MIA Accounting Community, despite the challenges that still exist with sequestration. Although I don’t know the minute details, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) – the organization responsible for recovering and identifying the remains of our loved ones from past wars – has identified means to mitigate the impact of furloughs on recovery operations, according to LTC Patrick Keane, Commander of JPACs Detachment Two (DET 2) in Hanoi.
“It’s not pretty, but it will work – the DET in cooperation with HQ will make it work,” says Keane, a strong leader /advocate for Vietnam War field operations and a litany of other responsibilities that go with his job, which will end in June 2013 when he rotates back to the states. Obviously pleased with the recent about face in field operations during these troubled times, Keane is confident that with “proper resourcing and effort,” JPAC can have the bulk of cases in Vietnam completed by FY17. “Things are in a good place,” he says, and Keane tells it like it is.
Defying the Odds
A month earlier, the picture looked very different indeed – bleak, to put it bluntly. Speaking to a packed audience of American Legionnaires at a meeting in Washington, D.C. on February 25, Johnie Webb, Deputy to the Commander of JPACs external affairs, a Vietnam veteran and long-time JPAC civilian employee, Webb told the group “if sequestration hits, it may essentially close down a lot of our operations.”
Webb explained that JPAC needed to get an exception to the policy requiring civilian employees to take two furlough days per two-week pay period. With excavations normally consisting of 30 days in the field under the leadership of a military O3 with a civilian anthropologist executing the technical aspects of the recovery, it is likely that compliance with sequestration guidelines would have placed excavations in a holding pattern until political differences were resolved on the Hill. Now that JPAC leadership in Hawaii has received an “exception,” the work of bringing home our MIAs is moving forward at some level.
Congratulations go to the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) to which JPAC reports and to JPAC Commander Maj Gen Kelly McKeague, whose tour began six months ago and is off to an outstanding start.
As a Southeast Asia expert, Keane knows that keeping operations on a fast track in Vietnam is important. He has spent several years , on and off, in that part of the world, dating back to 2002 when assigned to the US Embassy in Hanoi, and a year later selected to head up the U.S. Humanitarian Assistance/Demining Program in-country.
Aware of Vietnam’s destructive acidic soil and rapid development mode, Keane knew from day one that using time wisely was a priority. “I’ve just tried to do what seemed like common sense to get as much done here in Vietnam as possible,” he says, mentioning areas where the DET has improved operations and strengthened in-country relationships. With an exceptionally strong civilian staff that has over 50 years of work in MIA operations, DET 2 has been pushing a variety of new initiatives to improve the speed, efficiency and effectiveness of investigative and recovery efforts in Vietnam.
These initiatives, such as the Vietnamese Recovery Teams (VRT); the deployment of the Research and Investigative Team (RIT) leader to Vietnam for daily contact with his Vietnamese counterparts; additional manpower in the Casualty Resolution Office to improve investigations; and deployment of a US Navy Salvage ship to address underwater recoveries are all helping to move the Vietnam MIA issue closer to closure. Of no small significance, families who have been waiting for years to learn the whereabouts of loved ones, who seemingly disappeared into the wartime abyss, now have increased opportunities for answers to their questions.
Keane’s topnotch support personnel at DET 2 includes Deputy Commander Maj Greg Jones, USMC, who is serving a two-year joint tour, and a core group of highly skilled civilians consisting of Ron Ward, Casualty Resolution Specialist; Buddy Newell, Investigations Team (IT) Leader; Kelly Ray, RIT Team Leader; and Daniel Young, Supply Management Supervisor. Keane recognizes that good people play an important role in an organization’s success, and DET 2 is proof positive. The Vietnamese have come to know and trust their JPAC counterparts, and that does not happen overnight.
“I think the Vietnamese are comfortable with our current relationship, so it’s easier to get things done,” says LTC Keane. “These changes would have seemed radical 10 years ago, but nowadays the Vietnamese just need a nudge to see the opportunities.”
*The majority of my posts focus on Vietnam recovery efforts; however, major policy decisions, such as the exemption given to JPAC for MIA field operations in Vietnam, typically apply to other past wartime locations, as well, but I do not have any details beyond what I’ve covered here.