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 November, 2014
NOTE: It is not believed that the departure of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will have a direct impact on the impending stand up of the new agency to account for our missing-in-action service members and personnel from past wars; however, it will be crucial that Hagel’s successor, who could be Ashton Carter — the front runner for the job — be prepared to support his predecessor’s objectives, or we could be in for some tough times ahead.
On the other hand, the incoming Defense Secretary will in all likelihood be responsible for selecting a civilian leader of the new agency, and that person will most certainly have a direct affect on the mission to bring home our MIAs from past wars.
Ever since the 2010 Congressional mandate surfaced, focusing on boosting the number of MIA repatriations, I have been greatly concerned about its impact on Vietnam War field operations, in part because the mandate emerged at a time when our active duty military was engaged in two Middle East conflicts, our country had experienced an economic meltdown and the accounting community was saddled with an infrastructure incapable of handling an uptick in global recovery efforts involving tens of thousands of MIAs missing for nearly three-quarters of a century. But even more important, it was not meant to benefit Vietnam War recoveries but rather to move on to WWII, where it was believed that field operations could easily achieve the mandate’s goal.
In a nutshell, an innocuous piece of legislation turned the accounting community upside down. Congress tried to expand operations of WWII recoveries in concert with the U. S. military’s proposed pivot to Asia Pacific. The mandate imposed an annual quota of 200 MIA identifications by 2015. It was focused on the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) laboratory, under the leadership of Scientific Director Tom Holland, Ph.D. The intent was to move field operations increasingly toward areas where WWII remains exist, but what no one really realized was that the WWII database concurrently rolled out by the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) lacked enough data for success in the field — and that was just the beginning. Consequently, as the clock continued to tick away, so did the realization that the numeric goal could not be met, regardless of who was at the helm. Chaos ensued, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel then ordered a total overhaul of the accounting community, which was in the works for a long time anyway.
With the much anticipated arrival of the DoDs new agency, soon to take the lead in the recovery of all MIAs, many in the accounting community are expecting a boost in manpower, budget and hopefully the official go-ahead to exhume previously interred remains of unknowns from American Memorial Cemeteries in Hawaii and elsewhere around the globe. JPAC had requested this option for several years, but never received an official go-ahead. Thanks to DNA, many of our Unknowns from WWII could be identified and returned to their families, while allowing the agency to comply with the mandate. The agency could then use more of its budget to conduct field operations in all past war locations, allowing a little more time to tweak the WWII database.
Now that the 2015 deadline is rapidly approaching, I no longer fear that the mandate will affect Vietnam War recovery efforts, since Southeast Asia’s recovery model is rapidly becoming the darling of the accounting community – not because of Detachment 2’s ability to wow everyone with multiple remains from all field operations but rather because JPACs Hanoi-based operation has created a workable infrastructure that has given back more than just our loved one’s remains – top on the list is the detachment’s assistance in establishing a growing relationship with the Vietnamese government and population, in general. Ask most veterans if they ever thought the word ‘ally’ would apply to our relationship with Vietnam? Yet, we’re moving in that direction, and that does not hurt recovery efforts of our loved ones or inroads to much-requested Vietnam War archives!
One of the hot issues currently being dealt with by JPAC, until the new agency takes over in January, is whether or not the military command will be able to exhume the remains of sailors who perished when the USS Oklahoma was bombed during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. Approximately 400 were killed in the bombing with many ultimately interred in Honolulu’s Punchbowl. Some were exhumed in the past and returned to their families; however, there is now a move to officially exhume all those remaining USS Oklahoma sailors from the Punchbowl, for identification and reburial in accordance with the wishes of their families. For those families not wanting their loved ones permanently exhumed from the Punchbowl, the process will require that their loved one’s remains be initially exhumed for identification, before requests for reburials in the Punchbowl or elsewhere can be honored. There is a likelihood that caskets will contain co-mingled remains; therefore, they must be properly identified so that no mistakes are made when returning them to families or reburying them in the Punchbowl.
With the DoD serving as the designated lead for matters related to the United States Armed Forces, it is likely that the issue will be resolved in the near future and exhumations will take place. However, the U.S. Navy is against the idea and has had other plans for the final disposition of the USS Oklahoma’s remains. But the U.S. Army appears to trump the Navy as the primary decision-maker in the process, retroactive to its role with the Graves Registration Service (GRS) during WWII.
Since the USS Oklahoma was salvaged and now memorialized in the state of Oklahoma, the long-held tradition of “going down with the ship” does not apply in this case, as perhaps in the case of the USS Arizona. “In June of 1942, the U.S. Navy decided the lost ship’s hulk [USS Arizona] was not a hazard to navigation in the harbor [Pearl Harbor] and the ship would remain where she fell. Later in the war, the decision was made to leave the crewmembers with their ship, considering the men to be buried at sea,” according to historical data.
It may seem bizarre to exhume remains so that the DoD can conform to the 2010 Congressional mandate, but the upside is that several families will know that their loved ones have conclusively been identified through the wonders of modern science, and hopefully they will receive long-awaited closure as a result.
I want to thank the Mt. Soledad Memorial Ass. for inviting me to attend their 2014 Veterans Day celebration in honor of our POWs and MIAs from all past wars. It was heartwarming sitting among our POWs; I could not help thinking about the hardships they endured while serving our country. Yet, their patriotism still remains steadfast, as does their support for the return of our MIAs. For those present, especially the younger generation, I am certain it was an event that will not be forgotten.
Nov 9, 2014
U-T San Diego
By LORI WEISBURG
POW’S, MISSING IN ACTION REMEMBERED
LA JOLLA — Ask Richard Mullen about the harrowing six years he spent as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict and he’ll politely decline to reveal anything but the vaguest of details.
“I was taken to Hoa Lo — we nicknamed it the Hanoi Hilton — and I was severely beaten by the North Vietnamese,” he says almost matter-of-factly. He was 36 at the time, when the F-8 Crusader he was piloting for the U.S. Navy was shot down and he was forced to eject, landing him in a rice paddy.
Now 83, Mullen, who lives in La Jolla, said he still has residual pain from the physical abuse his captors inflicted on him.
“Your wrists are in manacles, with old fashioned screws to tighten them, and there were ropes that cut off the circulation on your arms, but I really don’t want to get into that,” he said. “It was very extreme and inhumane.”
Mullen was among some 20 POWs honored Saturday during a noon ceremony sponsored by the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, which also recognized the local families of those still missing in action.
While the association regularly holds special ceremonies each year to honor local veterans, Saturday’s event was the first specifically dedicated to POWs and those who had been declared missing in action, said association president Bruce Bailey.
The ceremony, with the towering Soledad cross and curved walls of more than 3,000 black granite veteran plaques forming the backdrop, brought together service members from multiple wars and their family members on a sunny, unseasonably warm afternoon.
The Marine Corps Recruit Depot brass quintet performed, “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America” were sung, and a moving flyover by the T-34 Team of pilots, in the “missing man” formation, arrived from the west. A replica of a recently installed plaque honoring the prisoners of war and the families of missing in action from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam was also unveiled.
While paying tribute to the POWs and the “isolation and deprivation” they suffered, keynote speaker Capt. Dan’l Steward also recognized the family members in attendance.
“Behind every better man and every better woman stands family,” said Steward, a former Navy SEAL and now Special Operations Subject Matter Expert to the Office of Naval Research. “Without family support, our servicemen and women would not be able, or frankly, as willing to sacrifice for the greater good. You, the families are part of the unique fabric that embodies the American willingness to fight and preserve the freedoms we have inherited and cherish.”
Elaine Zimmer Davis was the young mother of a 2-year-old son in 1969 when she learned that her husband’s F-4 Phantom had crashed while on a bombing mission to clear dense jungle in South Vietnam. Initially designated as “killed in action,” Jerry Zimmer later was reclassified as missing in action. During the last decade, Davis, long since remarried, has traveled several times to South Vietnam and visited the original crash site in hopes of “bringing Jerry home,” as she has named her blog dedicated to that quest.
For years, she said she sought to block out the memories of what happened to her late husband but more recently held out hope of possibly recovering his remains. It doesn’t appear, though, that will happen now, she said.
“We’re close to the end game here. It’s not looking really good,” said Davis, who attended the Mount Soledad ceremony. “You have to keep at it, you can’t give up. I won’t give up on helping others finding their loved ones, but if they tell me, ‘Elaine, we can’t find anything,’ I’ll be grateful they tried.”
Mullen, like many other Vietnam-era prisoners of war, relied on his religious faith and a special tap code the men all had learned in order to communicate with one another. He returned home in the spring of 1973 as part of “Operation Homecoming,” as did U.S. Navy Capt. Ernest Moore, who Mullen said was the senior commanding officer on his flight out of Hanoi.
Moore, a speaker on Saturday, reminded those attending that there are still some 1,600 Americans from the Vietnam War who are unaccounted for.
“I can only offer you to believe as I believe,” he said, “that they rest in peace and that you will some day be joined once again with them.”