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 January, 2013
Seated in a large conference room on Jan 12th at the Bahia Hotel in San Diego, CA, with approximately 200 family members and officials, I suddenly remembered that the only other time I had been in that room was decades earlier while attending a Vietnamese wedding. That’s another story in itself!
This time I was at the Bahia attending a Regional Family Update, organized by The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) for families with MIAs still unaccounted-for from the major past wars – I was there on behalf of my first husband, Capt. Jerry Zimmer, USMC, who perished in the Vietnam War when his F-4 Phantom jet was shot down on Aug 29, 1969, in the Que Son Mountains, 20 miles southwest of Danang. Jerry and his RIO, 1st Lt Al Graf, were attached to VMFA-542. Lt Graf also perished in the crash. We are still hoping to recover Jerry’s and Al’s remains.
SHAKING THINGS UP
Thinking the San Diego meeting would be strictly an overview of the accounting system with breakout sessions for families with unaccounted-for MIAs from WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War, I was surprised when DASD “Q” Winfield gave us a wakeup call, explaining that the Central Identification Laboratory (CIL)—the only forensic lab of its type in the world with a mission to identify American MIAs from past wars—need no longer be concerned with the so-called mandate in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to produce 200 identifications annually by 2015. In a nutshell, the mandate had called for doubling the number of IDs the CIL was currently averaging and maintaining that number from 2015 onward. Sounds easy, sounds great, but it was a misstep on both accounts.
The key word used by DASD Winfield in clarifying the misinterpretation was “capacity,” as in the lab only need show that it is building the capacity. Now it appears that the mandate from hell – apparently a mandate that never existed, is gone. This will permit DASD Winfield to start off his tenure as the leader of DPMO with somewhat of a clean slate, since he inherited the policy that led to the controversial defunct mandate for 200 identifications when he came aboard in mid 2012. One of DPMOs primary roles is to make policy for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), of which includes the CIL, and other DoD organizations within the accounting community.
If there was an upside to the ill-conceived “mandate,” it was the elevation of the CILs status far beyond the forensic environment. Scientific Director Dr. Tom Holland finally received an infusion of much-needed cash to build a new facility, hire more anthropologists, open a satellite lab on the mainland and conduct a general overhaul of his operation.
Funding is key to finishing the job in all MIA locations around the world; however, the clock is running out in Vietnam War locations, and there is no doubt that our leaders understand the urgency. And what — if anything — will change in the larger picture now that the need to produce 200 IDs is no longer a pressing issue could be cause for concern. Although budget cuts seem inevitable, we hope the impact will be minimal.
KEEPING THE PROMISE!
Those of us with MIAs in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are concerned about the lingering thought that Southeast Asia is being closely scrutinized for producing less bang for the buck, despite being budgeted for FY2013. DASD Winfield praised Vietnamese officials during the conference for opening up new sites, providing more archival documents, etc., but was extremely concerned about the cost of “blade” time involved with the use of large, contracted MI 17 helicopters to move supplies and teams when conducting field operations. We need the Vietnamese to reconsider their position on helicopter rates.
DASD Winfield and JPAC Commander Maj Gen Kelly McKeague are seemingly well-suited for their positions. Families with MIAs unaccounted for in Vietnam War locations are asking once again for reassurance that they will follow through on the promises made by President Obama and many other high ranking officials on the Hill to continue operations in Southeast Asia and work with involved countries to continue seeking archival material describing the whereabouts of those MIAs who have disappeared into the wartime abyss.
Thanks to the recent efforts in Southeast Asia of outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panneta; PACOMs current Commander Adm. Samuel Locklear and Deputy Commander Lt Gen Tom Conant; DASD “Q” Winfield and JPAC Commander Maj Gen Kelly Mc Keague; and Family League Chairman Ann Mills Griffiths, we are moving in the right direction and the Vietnamese are responding. Although trying to negotiate a more reasonable helicopter contract may not be easy, the Vietnamese should know that Americans have an old saying: One good turn deserves another.