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 July, 2012
CAN THE NDAA MANDATE BE A GOOD THING?
Each time I attend the annual meeting of the National League of POW/MIA Families in Washington, D.C., as in June 2012, I look forward to the sessions with the leaders in the accounting community talking about their respective organization’s accomplishments, challenges and future direction. This year I felt that speakers were trying to put a positive spin on a very shaky situation – not to be dishonest, but to leave room for a little hope, and I think they did a good job.
Yet no one was under the illusion that MIA Recovery operations, especially in Southeast Asia, would escape the negative effects of our tough economy, particularly the anticipated hits aimed at the Department of Defense (DoD) budget. But ironically the elephant in the room for most of us remained the indubitable 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that imposed a big burden on JPACs Central Identification Laboratory (CIL), with a mandate to double the number of MIA identifications to 200 per year by 2015, with contributions from WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, Cold War, and others, as necessary.
So What’s the Big Deal?
For starters, the mandate is a number crunching approach that does not take into account all the variables within the accounting community. When DPMO contracted with the Defense Institute for Defense Analyses in 2009 for an assessment of increasing the CILs identification rates, the end was expected to justify the means. With several caveats, the report noted that the lab could increase identifications to 180 MIAs per year, which was a big number in itself; however, the mandate specified 200 IDs per year – obviously, thinking that rounding out the number sounded better and perhaps the 20 additional identifications could easily be achieved from a couple of WWII B-17s or B-24s, each of which carried 10+ person crews. Easier said than done! Read more
Maneuvering the MIA world is not easy and sometimes elevates grief to a whole new level. And certainly the quest to locate and repatriate Jerry’s remains in Vietnam has been extraordinarily challenging at times. However, I am a strong believer in trying to balance sobriety with humor and have found that my endless travel glitches – particularly when I go solo — keep the yin and yang in check.
Undoubtedly, my preparation for traveling solo in Vietnam began nearly two decades ago, as a freelance writer covering the port of Yantai in mainland China for a business publication. Although China was developing rapidly, especially in the economic zones, the country was vastly different than it is today with no Internet access or mobile phones, bicycles everywhere and few English speakers to be found. Furthermore, I knew nothing about maritime commerce, shrimp farms, refrigerated containers and the list goes on. I was truly a fish out of water!
Despite being lackluster, my article was published; however, had I submitted the real story, it would have been anything but boring. A quick sample: Asked to make a toast at a formal dinner, hosted by the Mayor of Yantai and about 12 of his male colleagues, I selected a Spanish toast that unbeknownst to me translated into “Kiss – Kiss” in Mandarin, instead of “cheers.” When everyone began laughing, and it wasn’t supposed to be funny, I knew something was wrong. Although two decades have passed since that toast and trip, I learned a valuable lesson: Don’t assume that everything translates the same from one language to another.
Thanks to my friend, Doug Reese, an Army Vietnam veteran and long-time in-country travel expert who has made incredible contributions to Jerry’s case, I have avoided many of my past mistakes –but not all — while traveling in Vietnam. Although Doug recently moved back to the United States with his Vietnamese wife, Nhung, and their daughter, Samantha, we stay in close contact. A master at communication, Doug always manages to track me down through his Skype connection, and my recent trip to Vietnam was no exception.
While in country, I usually devote all my time to Jerry’s case; however, during this trip, I reserved a few days for leisure travel and asked Doug if he would pull together a boat trip on Halong Bay, which he did. At the last minute, I decided to cancel Halong and instead spend the time in Hong Kong, where Ron and I had lived for a short time about eight years ago. Consequently, I began rescheduling my final stay in Vietnam, along with booking flights and accommodations for Hong Kong. The latter was not too difficult, but I soon learned that winging it in Vietnam is not advisable when traveling solo. Read more