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 August, 2011
The attached photo stream was produced in conjunction with JPAC and offers a brief look at the organization’s humanitarian outreach in Laos. Although I haven’t mentioned a lot about Laos because Jerry was killed in Vietnam where most of our losses occurred, I am learning more about JPACs challenges and successes over the years in Laos, where we still have over 300 MIAs unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War.
Thanks to the United States Pacific Command’s Theater Campaign Plan, JPAC has been able to give the people of Laos a helping hand. In July, medical teams treated more than 800 people, providing routine medical care and teaching patients about healthy nutritional regimens. The Laos “Health Engagement” program has been in effect for more than 10 years and facilitates U.S. military physicians from all over the Pacific to gain valuable experience in Tropical Medicine.
As many of our Vietnam War vets will remember, Laos is known for its remote and austere locations; therefore, Special Forces medics are paired with military physicians, affording both parties the opportunity to expand their knowledge in diseases rarely encountered in U.S. clinics. JPAC provides five opportunities a year for Physicians and Independent Duty Corpsman/Medical Technicians to augment Health Engagements while working alongside recovery teams.
For families with missing loved ones in Laos, it is important to know that humanitarian programs have long been considered the backbone of establishing people-to-people friendships, i.e., getting a foot in the door to countries that needed our help, and we needed theirs. In fact, during the Reagan era in the mid to late 1980s, humanitarian programs in Vietnam were believed to be instrumental in breaking the logjam that prevented one of JPACs early predecessors, the Joint Casualty Recovery Center (JCRC, 1973-92), from creating a solid, ongoing repatriation program for our POWs and MIAs. For the most part, nongovernmental organizations were the only ones allowed to perform humanitarian efforts back then, largely because the U.S. did not have formal relations with Vietnam until the early nineties.
Today everything has changed. While it might seem to be business as usual for USPACOM – a major military command – to get behind humanitarian efforts in Laos and/or to be teaming with the Vietnamese in a military-to-military partnership, these are extraordinary and long overdue changes. Our military has returned to Southeast Asia in peace, bringing with them the promise of a new beginning, according to what I heard during the recent government briefing at the POW/MIA League Meeting in D.C. This comes at a time when families with missing loved ones from the Vietnam War know that humanitarian efforts work both ways.
I’m reasonably sure that many families attending last month’s three-day meeting of the Nat’l League of POW/MIA Families in D.C. felt that they’d heard it all before, and they may well be correct – but I don’t think so, and I mean that from a positive perspective! (Also See “Not Over ‘Til It’s Over”).
There was an outpouring of support to continue recovery efforts in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, from prominent politicians and military leaders in D.C. – Peter Verga, Chief of Staff for the Under Secretary for Policy; Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN), US-Russia Joint Commission for POW/MIA Affairs; Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, USA, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA); and Brig. Gen Richard Simcock, USMC, Principal Director, South & Southeast Asia, who spoke in strategic terms, explaining that U.S. interests were important in the Asia/Pacific region, telling everyone that our country is a Pacific Nation and that Vietnam will play an important role in shaping our policy in that region. “Our interaction needs to start somewhere. It needs to start with the military,” said Brig. Gen. Simcock, who talked of a growing friendship with the Vietnamese, both on a professional and a personal level – as in having Vietnamese to dinner at his home, saying he never thought he’d see the day. “It’s about time,” said Brig. Gen. Simcock, who also said that most people don’t know the military of today, and I agree wholeheartedly.
At some point Ann Mills-Griffiths, the League’s former Executive Director, now Chairman of the Board, made a pertinent statement: “All nations have national interests,” said Ann, whose brother’s crash site was recently found in waters off North Vietnam after 45 years. Although it has taken a long time to bring our Navy’s oceanographic survey ships into Vietnamese waters to search for MIAs like Ann’s brother, CMDR James Mills, USNR, the Vietnamese increasingly see our military as humanitarians and peacekeepers – the latter of which may have additional benefits as this rapidly developing country copes with growth pains and maritime border disputes with some of its neighbors. Read more