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 June, 2012
LEAGUE MEETING HIGHLIGHTS
What a difference a year makes, as witnessed by 300-plus families and government officials at the 43rd annual meeting of the Nat’l League of POW/MIA Families in Washington, D.C. The mid June, two-day event featured speakers talking about a new spirit of cooperation between the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC); increasing investigations and excavations in all Vietnam War locations; ramping up archival searches in Vietnam and Laos, using every technique available; and touting a new way of identifying very impaired remains using isotopes.
Although there was reason to be cautiously optimistic about the immediate future, there was a sense that the going could get a lot tougher down the road.
Ann Mills-Griffiths was back at the helm, keeping everyone on their toes in her role as the League’s Chairman of the Board. Many speakers reiterated last year’s message that there would be NO ongoing MIA program for any past wartime group if it weren’t for the League, aka, Mills-Griffiths. The event was flawless, from beginning to end.
With the exception of the current “bumpy” road in Laos, speakers gave high grades to the Asia/Pacific governments of Cambodia and Vietnam for their topnotch cooperation in our country’s quest to locate and repatriate MIAs from the Vietnam War. Still unaccounted for in Vietnam, 1282; Cambodia, 57; Laos, 318; and China’s territorial waters, 7, according to recently published figures.
BUMPY ROAD TO LAOS
A few problems in Laos relate to that government’s insistence on jacking up the price of JPACs helicopter lease, currently leaving one helicopter in the air for field operations; foot travel to sites has been nixed by the Lao government as too dangerous but travel by vehicle to some sites has been approved — even though tourist activity appears unrestricted in many of the same general areas; and giving Stony Beach full reign to investigate potential in-country sites or sightings beyond scheduled field activities has yet to be approved by the Lao government. Despite the less than perfect report card for Laos, JPAC is far from writing off this important area where we still have several MIAs. Most people familiar with Laos believe that strides will be made, but it will be slow going.
RETURN OF THE US-RUSSIA JOINT COMMISSION ON POW/MIAs
The much anticipated discussion about resumption of the U.S. — Russia Joint Commission (USRJC) on POW/MIAs after a six-year hiatus is still a work in progress. The League’s primary interest in the commission is to gain access to all Russian archives and witnesses with information pertaining to the fate of MIAs who disappeared without a trace during the war years.
Peter Verga, Chief of Staff for the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and Major General W. Montague “Q” Winfield, USA (Ret.), the new Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for DPMO, recently traveled to Russia to meet with commission counterparts. They all agreed to meet again in the fall to “set the conditions for the increased cooperation in the search for our missing,” according to Verga. Created as a Presidential Commission, the League is concerned about DPMOs role in the revitalized commission, considering its past history: Richard T. Childress, Senior League Policy Advisor & Director for Asian Affairs, warned that “… Que will have a challenge in converting DPMO into a supportive organization of the President’s Commission, rather than a historically known obstacle.”
DASD QUE WINFIELD ON BOARD
Undoubtedly, the emergence of DASD Winfield at DPMO, was a major highlight of the three-day event. Winfield assured families that his appointment signaled a new beginning of cooperation between DPMO and JPAC, both of which have roles within the POW/MIA community. Winfield replaced Robert Newberry, USAF (Ret), whose management style created somewhat of a wedge between DPMO and JPAC, as well as with the League.
Winfield is not a stranger to JPAC, since he was its first Commander during a time in which the Hawaii-based organization metamorphosed from the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting (JTF-FA) in 2004 to become JPAC.
No doubt, Winfield was handpicked for the position, knowing that the 30-year career Army officer could cross “party lines” and get the job done as an insider, rather than a newcomer. Yet, these are tough times, and Winfield’s biggest challenge may be in carrying out his marching orders, while still keeping the peace with all the stakeholders in the MIA community.
JPAC COMMANDER MG STEPHEN TOM REFLECTS
Normally quiet-spoken, especially at last year’s slightly contentious meeting, JPAC’s Commander MG Stephen Tom was lighthearted and very open, discussing his tour of duty with JPAC. MG Tom not only survived a tumultuous two years with marching orders to speed things up in the accounting community and to increase resources, but he did it without creating undue havoc. MG Tom summed up his experience in two words — “huge challenge.”
MG Tom discussed a litany of changes, including JPACs budget increase of $30 million annually, between FY 2012-FY 2016, to accomplish the increased recovery/identification demands imposed by the 2010 Nat’l Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Having received the first $30-million increase in FY2012, MG Tom cautioned that the issue will be how to get the rest of it. A new Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) facility is expected to be ready at Hickam AFB in Hawaii in late 2014, and a satellite lab soon will open on the mainland at Ofutt AFB in Omaha, NE.
The new Vietnamese Recovery Team (VRT) concept has been so successful in Vietnam that JPAC is looking at using that model in other past wartime areas, too, in an ongoing quest to save money. MG Tom noted the accomplishments of longtime civil service employees in Hanoi’s Detachment 2 — Ron Ward, Casualty Resolution Specialist, who also received a special award this year from the League; Dan Young, Logistics Specialist; and Buddy Newell, Linguist, all of whom report to LTC Patrick Keane, Commander of Det 2. Also lauded was Johnie Webb, Deputy to the JPAC Commander at Hickam AFB, whose 3-plus decades of service cover all past wartime conflicts.
DR. TOM HOLLAND DISCUSSES A NEW TECHNOLOGY
Of great interest to families with concerns about the CILs ability to make identifications from severely impaired remains, CIL Director Dr. Tom Holland discussed a breakthrough that can be applied to certain cases through the use of stable isotopes. Holland described how isotopes helped lead to an identification of an American F-100 pilot who was shot down in the mid 1960s in a mountainous area of Laos. Among the material evidence found were minimal remains (not suitable for DNA testing), along with life support gear, dog tags, etc, making it seem likely that the pilot known to be flying that aircraft had not ejected but was in the plane when it crashed; however, it wasn’t until the lab determined– through the use of stable isotope analysis – that the remains did, in fact, belong to that pilot, permitting the CIL to make a conclusive identification, giving his family an opportunity for closure.
The use of stable isotopes can determine a person’s diet and ecology during the last 10 years of their life. Using carbon, nitrogen and oxygen testing methods, the CIL was able to determine that the diet, water, etc, in the case mentioned here was consistent with an American from a particular part of the United States, not a person of Asian/Lao ancestry. This is very exciting news and should help speed up identification of remains when there is an important piece of the puzzle missing.
CHANGES ARE COMING — MAYBE MUCH SOONER THAN EXPECTED
The reality of the 2010 NDAA was not a big issue at this year’s meeting; however, Verga discussed the impending deadline for JPACs CIL to produce 200 identifications a year by 2015, saying that it was not simply to reach that magic number but to sustain it, from that point forward.
“We need to build the capacity,” he said, explaining that a revision of DoD accounting strategy would be “comprehensive, collaborative and integrated.” “A major element of this strategy will be to examine how to best accomplish this vital mission in today’s challenging fiscal environment.” Translation: Enjoy the glow, because tough love is just around the corner.
I JUST POSTED PHOTOS IN THE GALLERY OF THE 2012 ANNUAL LEAGUE MEETING IN D.C.
(Highlight “Gallery” on the above navigation bar)