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 October, 2012
Q. The biggest challenge to working on Jerry’s case?
A. It’s the emotional aspect — no doubt about it! Waking up every morning since his case was reopened and trying to stay upbeat about a very sad event in my life — Jerry meant the world to me, and reliving every aspect of our time together is beyond difficult. I am still close to his mom, and I will always be heartbroken for her and other family members, especially Jerry’s and my son, Craig.
Q. Do my comments about Jerry bother Ron?
A. I’m sure they hurt in some ways, but Ron is not competing with someone who is going to come walking through the door. Years ago, I truly felt that I would need to make a decision between the two, because Jerry would come home, but that was as a result of being young and thinking he was invincible. Hope doesn’t replace reality. Ron knew how I felt when we married, and I never hid my feelings about Jerry from him. As a former combat pilot, serving in Vietnam, this made all the difference in our relationship. Ron did a wonderful job of raising Craig for which I will always be grateful — plus, we have now been married for decades.
Q. Why not let JPAC do the job?
A. I do, but there are still 80,000-plus MIAs unaccounted-for from past wars, and I have been in a unique position to recruit a lot of help from Ron, a retired Marine and also a helicopter pilot, and many active duty military and veterans, all of whom have brought something useful to the case. At one point, Ron compiled all our information into a very detailed PowerPoint and handed it to JPAC to help them do their job.
Q. Do you get special attention from JPAC?
A. Yes and no — access would be a better word, but that access is not exclusive to me. After attending several Family League meetings in D.C. and regional ones around the country, traveling to JPAC headquarters in Hawaii with Ron and visiting Detachment 2 in Vietnam on several occasions, I have come to know the people who do this work and have a huge amount of respect for them – at headquarters and in the detachments. I hope they feel likewise. Our family could not do this without JPACs help. Missteps in the mid ’90s placed the case in the “No Further Pursuit Category,” and as a result JPAC has tried hard to rectify the error. In the end, we are like everyone else with an MIA still unaccounted for, JPAC cannot make the remains appear – time has taken its toll on all remains from the Vietnam War, no good deeds can ensure a happy ending. This is the reality.
Q. What would you do over?
A. Not tell anyone that I was writing a book, which actually began while living in Hong Kong! I have been a writer/editor for years, but writing a first-person account of something that was such a happy time in my life — but became the most painful — has been very difficult. I jokingly told a friend recently that I needed a writing therapist. As a long-time non-fiction writer, who has typically focused on third-person stories – not first person, the subject matter is very personal, and I’m not used to sharing in that way. But, after assessing my strengths on how to best honor Jerry’s memory, in addition to championing his repatriation, I decided writing this book was the best thing I could do.
Q. Why do a blog if writing a book is so painful?
A. The blog is part of a bigger picture involving MIAs from the Vietnam War and beyond. It is important that everyone do their part to help keep the MIA situation on the front burner – this is what we do for military heroes who sacrificed their lives for our country and never came home for a proper burial. As a writer, I can contribute, and this is what I am doing.
Q. Aren’t you afraid that someone will steal your blog material for a book?
A. No. I have been in this business for a long time, and my material is protected by copyright law. I take no donations, nor do I sell anything on my site. But as a professional journalist, I am very hardcore when it comes to plagiarism – especially involving a book on this subject. Most people would not think of infringing, but unfortunately I have met a couple of people, who I won’t name, in the MIA community that have serious fraudulent pasts, and nothing they might do would surprise me. I am prepared. However, I do not mind sharing my blogs and photos with credit — the idea is to bring more people into the fold. I try to be accurate but generally don’t update each blog — use at your own risk.
Q. When is your book expected to be published?
A. I have no idea – the case takes priority, as does my blog.
Q. What bothers you most since working on Jerry’s case?
A. Disingenuous people who try to benefit by preying on others’ emotions, especially our veterans — I stay away from those people. Sadly, Facebook and other social media have given a forum to unvetted people who spend time denigrating people for sympathy and gain. I’ve tried to interface with good people and approach bringing Jerry home as a solid, ethical journey. I have lived a very good life, and I credit Jerry and Ron for inspiring me to become a writer. Using this skill has allowed me to give back.
Q. Is the case nearing the end?
A. I believe that the field portion is certainly near the end, but if remains are found, then it’s up to the folks in JPACs lab to determine if they belong to Jerry and/or Al. And, there is no guarantee that either guy’s remains will be found. But I do not know when and/or if JPAC will return to Jerry’s and Al’s site.
POST-FORAY STORY: www.bringingjerryhome.com/2013/02/marine-f4-phantom-foray-dj-vu/
The Marine F-4 Phantom Foray is coming to San Diego, CA, 1-4 November 2012, and the number of attendees is building as word gets out among veterans who flew this tremendously beloved supersonic jet. The Marines of VMFA-314 (Black Knights) received the Corps’ first F-4Bs in June 1962, at MCAS El Toro, which was adjacent to Mission Viejo and sadly now closed.
But the event will be held at the Town & Country Hotel, conveniently located off Interstate 8 in Mission Valley, a short distance from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD), about 15-20 minutes from MCAS Miramar in the northern portion of the city and 30-40 minutes from Camp Pendleton in North County. The Marines rule in this part of the country, so East and West Coast Marine F-4 pilots and crew will be right at home in San Diego.
Reunions are infamous for reviving – often in a spectacular way — events of historical or meaningful significance, even though the redundancy may last just a few days. For hundreds of Marine jet pilots, the upcoming F-4 Foray is expected to place a bunch of jet jocks back in the seat – metaphorically speaking –of the aircraft that was as tough to earn the right to fly as it was to perform life or death missions in the Vietnam War and elsewhere. If it is true that the last fighter pilot has already been born, then the Marines attending this reunion should feel proud that as former F-4 pilots and RIOs, they are part of another very special brotherhood.
The F-4 Foray will draw hundreds of former Marine pilots, RIOs, crew chiefs, mechanics, reps, families and special guests, most of whom were involved with F-4s over the years. There will be Ready Rooms spread throughout the hotel for maximum hospitality and several outside tours to Marine-related locations. (Visit www.afr-reg.com/F4Foray for more information). The highlight of the three-day event is expected to be the Saturday night banquet dinner in the hotel when Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos speaks to his Marines, as in “once a Marine, always a Marine.” The Commandant flew F-4s early-on in his career and is the first pilot in history to serve in his current position as Commandant. Well liked by all who know him and respected by those who only know of him – yours truly included, the Saturday evening dinner is certain to be a big deal.
Also speaking at the banquet will be special guest John Capellupo, past President of McDonnell Aircraft, builder of 5,057 F-4 Phantom IIs, for the Navy, Air Force and Marines. Production of F-4s ended in the United States in 1979, moving to Japan’s Mitsubishi, which built 138 Phantoms with the last one off the assembly line in 1981. Although no longer in production, the Phantom is still used in several countries worldwide, and nowadays the U.S. military uses it as a target drone. Also, according to organizers of the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the Vietnam War, the Marine Corps had more F4 Phantom squadrons – 25 to be exact – in service throughout the world during the Vietnam War than any other single type aircraft squadron before or since Vietnam – a stunning number, since Marine Corps aviation just marked its 100th Anniversary this year. Another interesting hallmark is that the F4 was the only demonstration aircraft used concurrently by both the Navy/Marine Blue Angels (1969-74) and the Air Force Thunderbirds.
LIFE AS AN F-4 PHANTOM WIFE — BRIEFLY
The F-4 will always have a special place in my heart, since my first husband, Capt Jerry Zimmer, worked harder than words can explain to get selected to fly F-4s and was killed flying one in Vietnam. So competitive was the Marine Corps flight school program that the number of slots for jets – never mind F-4s – in each graduating class during Jerry’s era (’67-’68) was sometimes non-existent or limited to one or two slots — timing truly was a big deal. A number of Marines transitioning from helicopters, infantry or another MOS, went through an Air Force exchange program and some had an opportunity to get into F-4s through that channel — it is my understanding that the Air Force had more F-4s than the Navy or the Marine Corps. My friend, retired Marine Col Jack Gagen, went through the Marine flight program but served his first Vietnam tour with the Air Force in F-4s and his second with the Marines in VMFA-542, later going on to command F-4 squadrons at MCAS El Toro and MCAS Yuma, AZ. Read more