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 the ‘Elaine Zimmer Davis’ Vietnam Travels’ Category
NO LONGER ENEMIES
It has taken me a while to realize that my visits to Vietnam have been a positive factor in the constant challenge of reliving Jerry’s death while working on his case. Certainly the in-country JPAC leadership and field teams, working hard to find our loved ones, have provided a comfort zone and connection to people of like mind and culture in this faraway country. However, my transformation seems to have come gradually from people of so-called unlike mind and of a very different culture.
Whenever I return to Vietnam, as I did in May 2012, one of the most important stops on my itinerary is at the village of Son Vien, located in the valley below Jerry’s and Al’s crash site. Depending upon road conditions, the drive from Hoi An usually takes an hour or more, riding along bumpy roads into the back country of the Central Highlands. My guide and translator, Hoa (pronounced, whar), always contacts Du – a village elder –in advance to let him know that the American woman is coming to visit his family. Du is the former Viet Cong soldier, who led us to Jerry’s crash site three years ago, and I always look forward to this part of my time in country. Inevitably, when our driver begins the final lap of our journey, Du appears from out of nowhere on his motorbike, motioning us to follow him home. 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