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.
Archive for February, 2010
Joe recently passed along an email from Bill Duker, chairman of the Veteran’s Initiative program for the VVA. While reading Bill’s email, two benign sentences jumped out at me. Bill said, “I just hope that there are still some remains that can be recovered and identified. Sometimes the jungle just takes everything back and there is nothing left.”
Interestingly, I am prepared for whatever happens — even if the remains of my first husband, Capt Jerry A Zimmer, are not retrieved but, instead, JPAC finds those of his RIO, 1st Lt Al Graf. I have not said a lot about Al, because it’s difficult to maintain a blog for two people; yet, I have always felt that we’re looking for two people — Jerry and Al. What makes us feel that remains are likely to be found is that our investigation concluded the following: When the aircraft hit the flat-top mountain, we believe that the cockpit section separated from the rest of the fuselage and ended up at a lower level, causing a crater. We also believe that the major burnout of Napalm, bombs and fuel occurred at the impact point, approx. 100 meters above. Plus, there is a possibility that some remains were buried by locals years ago, as has been the case at other sites in Vietnam.
But the more important thing about recovery of remains 40 years later — and many more years for WWII casualties — is that digging, sifting, metal detection, etc, are some of the techniques used by excavation experts. Moreover, the leaders often have backgrounds in anthropology and archaeology along with other skills. (See JPAC at “Articles and Links” to learn more).
I’ve learned a lot since undertaking this journey to bring Jerry home, but one very important revelation stands out: Every member of the military that I’ve come across — active duty and retired — is truly proud of America’s ongoing effort to bring home our loved ones. And as BGen Gerry Miller said: “Jerry and Al deserve to come home.”
In 1993, JPACs predecessor — the Joint Task Force Full Accounting (JTFA) — was permitted to do a major survey of all the known sites associated with our missing servicemen in Vietnam. However, when JTFA visited the area believed to be Jerry’s crash site, they were directed to the outer edge of the debris field at the bottom of a 400 meter mountain, instead of the actual impact site at the top. Given what they saw, the team assumed that all evidence had been washed away and, consequently, placed the case in the “No Further Pursuit” category. However, had they gone up the mountain, it is likely that Jerry’s case could have been resolved 16 years ago. On the other hand, I do have a better appreciation of how difficult JTFAs job was two decades ago, because the relationship between Vietnam and America is still a work-in-progress in 2010.
Our family literally stumbled on a discrepancy in the crash site coordinates that led us on a journey to find Jerry’s site — little did we know that we would also find actual pieces of his aircraft, 40 years later. And rather than vilifying the government for a shoddy investigation, our family went after the facts doing good old-fashioned footwork in Vietnam with friends and locals; networking with Marines to better pinpoint the crash site; getting the word out through the media; and conducting online research to better understand everything else. Armed with a 36-page powerpoint presentation put together by my husband, Ron, we delivered the goods to JPAC, and they responded positively to our well-researched investigation. And while we haven’t brought Jerry’s remains home yet, we are a lot closer than we were 40 years ago.