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 February, 2012
In Jan 2009, my sons, Craig (L) and Brett (R), visited JPACs Detachment 2 in Hanoi to better understand MIA operations in Southeast Asia. Craig was especially interested, since his dad — Capt Jerry Zimmer, USMC, is still MIA. Seated at the far left is former Det2 Commander LtC Todd Emoto, USA. Delivering the presentation is former Deputy Commander Maj Ed Nevgloski, USMC. Thanks to LtC Emoto and Maj Nevgloski, Craig and Brett gained a lot of insight into the successes and challenges of recovering our MIAs from the Vietnam War.
Withdrawal from MIA operations in Southeast Asia may not happen immediately, but there’s little doubt that a contingent of U.S. Government officials within the Department of Defense is not leaving a stone unturned when it comes to exploring exit options. The consensus on the Hill is that “everything is on the table.”
Whatever the solution ends up being, it is unlikely to be good news for our MIAs from the Vietnam War, unless something is done soon. The elephant in the room is a mandate in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which some people now believe was intended to be the catalyst for an exit strategy from Southeast Asia.
Although the situation in Vietnam is complicated and always has a new wrinkle, the best way to describe the 2010 NDAA is to remember if something sounds too good, it probably is. The innocuous – rapidly becoming infamous – mandate is directed at the Central Identification Laboratory (CIL), which falls under the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu!
The mandate calls for the CIL to more than double the number of MIA identifications to 200 per year by 2015 with contributions from all past wars. In return, the mandate stipulated that there would be enough funding to help make it happen. Note: Conclusive identifications of Vietnam War MIAs are achieved through the use of laboratory analysis and other supporting data. Finding remains during field operations or otherwise is the first step in the process but does not guarantee an identification will be made.
On the surface, who could argue with a mandate that appeared to be a win-win proposition, regardless of political affiliation or MIA allegiance to WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War or other U.S. conflicts around the globe. However, tension is slowly building within the Vietnam War sector among families with MIAs still unaccounted-for, as well as Vietnam veterans who are learning that the mandate might be prejudicial to MIA operations in Southeast Asia. Interestingly, Vietnam veterans have been ardent supporters of MIAs from all past wars, but the ones from the Vietnam War understandably have a special place in their hearts. And recent discussions about possible closure of Detachments in Hanoi and Laos exposed the bigger problem.
Since passage of the 2010 NDAA, CIL Director Dr. Thomas Holland has been walking a fine line. On the one hand, he is a scientist who knows that the mandate could help the CIL in ways that might seem impossible during these extraordinary times. Already the largest and one of the most prestigious in the world, the CIL under Dr. Holland’s leadership has a new facility under construction; funds to hire more skilled anthropologists; and the means to open a satellite lab on the mainland. The CIL is on the road to becoming a forensic lab of the future, and 2015 could very well be the kick-off point for that journey.
A potential downside for Dr. Holland is that he needs to deliver. Highly respected in his field, he knows that meeting the mandate’s expectations means ramping up efforts now – not three years from now – since forensic anthropology is a very precise, slow-moving process, as is finding qualified employees. Unfortunately, Vietnam War remains are hard to come by, which affects the identification process. These factors could make it more difficult for the numbers to add up, but my guess is that Dr. Holland can meet the 2015 challenge, even with Vietnam in the picture.
Please stay tuned.