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 April, 2013
Our military, VRT members and local villagers worked together at my first husband’s crash site during a Phase II excavation in 2012. Had JPAC not received the recent exemption from sequestration (with conditions), this type of work would likely have been put on hold. Thanks to some behind-the-scenes support, field operations in Vietnam are back on track.
Good news is coming out of the MIA Accounting Community, despite the challenges that still exist with sequestration. Although I don’t know the minute details, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) – the organization responsible for recovering and identifying the remains of our loved ones from past wars – has identified means to mitigate the impact of furloughs on recovery operations, according to LTC Patrick Keane, Commander of JPACs Detachment Two (DET 2) in Hanoi.
“It’s not pretty, but it will work – the DET in cooperation with HQ will make it work,” says Keane, a strong leader /advocate for Vietnam War field operations and a litany of other responsibilities that go with his job, which will end in June 2013 when he rotates back to the states. Obviously pleased with the recent about face in field operations during these troubled times, Keane is confident that with “proper resourcing and effort,” JPAC can have the bulk of cases in Vietnam completed by FY17. “Things are in a good place,” he says, and Keane tells it like it is.
Defying the Odds
A month earlier, the picture looked very different indeed – bleak, to put it bluntly. Speaking to a packed audience of American Legionnaires at a meeting in Washington, D.C. on February 25, Johnie Webb, Deputy to the Commander of JPACs external affairs, a Vietnam veteran and long-time JPAC civilian employee, Webb told the group “if sequestration hits, it may essentially close down a lot of our operations.”
Webb explained that JPAC needed to get an exception to the policy requiring civilian employees to take two furlough days per two-week pay period. With excavations normally consisting of 30 days in the field under the leadership of a military O3 with a civilian anthropologist executing the technical aspects of the recovery, it is likely that compliance with sequestration guidelines would have placed excavations in a holding pattern until political differences were resolved on the Hill. Now that JPAC leadership in Hawaii has received an “exception,” the work of bringing home our MIAs is moving forward at some level.
Congratulations go to the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) to which JPAC reports and to JPAC Commander Maj Gen Kelly McKeague, whose tour began six months ago and is off to an outstanding start.
As a Southeast Asia expert, Keane knows that keeping operations on a fast track in Vietnam is important. He has spent several years , on and off, in that part of the world, dating back to 2002 when assigned to the US Embassy in Hanoi, and a year later selected to head up the U.S. Humanitarian Assistance/Demining Program in-country.
Aware of Vietnam’s destructive acidic soil and rapid development mode, Keane knew from day one that using time wisely was a priority. “I’ve just tried to do what seemed like common sense to get as much done here in Vietnam as possible,” he says, mentioning areas where the DET has improved operations and strengthened in-country relationships. With an exceptionally strong civilian staff that has over 50 years of work in MIA operations, DET 2 has been pushing a variety of new initiatives to improve the speed, efficiency and effectiveness of investigative and recovery efforts in Vietnam.
These initiatives, such as the Vietnamese Recovery Teams (VRT); the deployment of the Research and Investigative Team (RIT) leader to Vietnam for daily contact with his Vietnamese counterparts; additional manpower in the Casualty Resolution Office to improve investigations; and deployment of a US Navy Salvage ship to address underwater recoveries are all helping to move the Vietnam MIA issue closer to closure. Of no small significance, families who have been waiting for years to learn the whereabouts of loved ones, who seemingly disappeared into the wartime abyss, now have increased opportunities for answers to their questions.
Keane’s topnotch support personnel at DET 2 includes Deputy Commander Maj Greg Jones, USMC, who is serving a two-year joint tour, and a core group of highly skilled civilians consisting of Ron Ward, Casualty Resolution Specialist; Buddy Newell, Investigations Team (IT) Leader; Kelly Ray, RIT Team Leader; and Daniel Young, Supply Management Supervisor. Keane recognizes that good people play an important role in an organization’s success, and DET 2 is proof positive. The Vietnamese have come to know and trust their JPAC counterparts, and that does not happen overnight.
“I think the Vietnamese are comfortable with our current relationship, so it’s easier to get things done,” says LTC Keane. “These changes would have seemed radical 10 years ago, but nowadays the Vietnamese just need a nudge to see the opportunities.”
*The majority of my posts focus on Vietnam recovery efforts; however, major policy decisions, such as the exemption given to JPAC for MIA field operations in Vietnam, typically apply to other past wartime locations, as well, but I do not have any details beyond what I’ve covered here.