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.
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Archive for April, 2011
Elaine visited the Base Camp during Jerry’s and Al’s excavation in August 2010 and met some members of the Vietnamese team who work side-by-side with JPAC conducting field operations in search of our MIAs in Vietnam. The Vietnamese selected to do this work have received extensive training and have been conducting unilateral operations in restricted locations for some time. This image was taken after both teams had been excavating Jerry’s and Al’s site throughout the day in 100 degree heat. The Vietnamese took a moment to propose a toast for the camera.
I knew change was coming in our Vietnam War recovery efforts when the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act included a mandate upping the number of MIA identifications from an average of 98 per year to 200 by 2015. If you understand the nature of recoveries/identifications, then you know that JPACs Central Identification Laboratory will be hard-pressed to meet that magic number, with or without Vietnam in the picture. Unfortunately, Vietnam recoveries have never delivered high numbers, so JPAC needs to go where it can bring home more MIAs to satisfy the new mandate. This means that efforts are being diverted to WWII locations.
And although I have been adamantly opposed to the mandate, I have adjusted to its reality and begun to look at the number’s game as an opportunity to move in a positive direction.
Also, at the beginning of our quest to find Jerry’s crash site and remains, I was not in favor of unilateral operations by the Vietnamese and expressed my feelings in past blogs. There was something so pure about having our active duty military, many of whom have served in the Middle East, working in the field on behalf of our loved ones. But that was naïve of me – I am 20 years too late (not 40 years, as some would like to think, since our Vietnam War recoveries waivered until the mid 1990s, in smoke-filled rooms with stalled negotiations).
It is time for the families of MIAs left behind from the Vietnam War to negotiate with our trusted decision-makers on the issue of revamping our recovery model in Southeast Asia. Maybe something akin to “let’s make a deal!” Read more
Executive Director Ann Mills Griffiths (center) with POW/MIA families at the 2010 League Meeting in Washington, D.C.
I just finished reading the latest newsletter, published by the National League of POW/MIA Families, which is authored by Executive Director Ann Mills Griffiths, who has served in a leadership capacity for the past 33 years. Griffiths is well known among League families and probably anyone else involved with efforts to bring home our POWs and MIAs from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
I called the League in D.C., caught Ann in her office and spoke with her briefly, mentioning that I was concerned about her intentions to step aside as the League’s Executive Director on Aug. 1, 2011. Ann told me that she is hoping to stay connected, if re-elected to the League’s Board of Directors; however, Ann wants to reduce some of her 14- to 16-hour-a-day schedule. Since few people have Ann’s contacts in political circles at home and abroad, I am hoping that she will continue to serve on the League’s Board as the point person for US and foreign officials .
Although I don’t know Ann personally, except for a brief introduction at last year’s annual League meeting in Washington, DC, I have been told that she is either liked or disliked in POW/MIA circles. But after talking with mutual friends, I am convinced that personality conflicts aside, Ann plays an important role at the League’s political level. Unfortunately I’m learning that the fate of our MIAs seems to be all about politics—especially as it applies to the ones who disappeared in North Vietnam. Sadly, Ann’s brother—Navy LT JG James Mills is one of our MIAs that never came home after his aircraft was shot down in 1966 over North Vietnam. Lt JG Mills served as a Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) aboard an F4 Phantom – the same aircraft in which my first husband, Capt Jerry Zimmer, USMC, was shot down in South Vietnam. Read more