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 the ‘MIA Recoveries in Vietnam’ Category
Vietnam War MIA Family
Our family traditionally closes the East Coast-West Coast gap during the holidays and gets together at our home in southern California. We always try to take an annual photo, and this year was no exception. It’s a comical crapshoot at best, but we want new and old friends to know us in a very personal way. Namely, that we are one of the many MIA families dedicated to bringing home the remains of a loved one from Vietnam — in our case, my first husband and Craig’s father, Capt Jerry Zimmer, USMC. Thank you for following our journey.
MY RETURN TO VIETNAM
In August/September 2013, I returned to Vietnam and met the wonderful JPAC team that conducted another excavation phase at Jerry’s and Al’s crash site. The team found more evidence but no remains. I also attended my first repatriation ceremony, held on the tarmac of Da Nang International Airport – formerly known as Da Nang Airbase, where many of our Marines, including Jerry, and Air Force pilots, were stationed during the war. Looking ahead, we are still hopeful, dedicated and will continue to keep everyone in the loop through updates posted on the blog.
Military Historical Tours & Group in Da Nang
While in Da Nang, I also had an opportunity to link up with Military Historical Tours – timing is everything and certainly describes my chance to finally meet and have dinner with Ed Garr and John Powell, who are considered among the best guides in the business and a lot more. Both served in Vietnam – Ed with the Marine Corps, and John the Army. Stay tuned for my upcoming military travel blog with Ed and John serving as my “guides.” The military travel market is burgeoning, and MHT is tops in the business.
FAREWELL TO DOUG REESE — A VIETNAM FRIEND
I was deeply saddened by the death of my good friend, Doug Reese, 66, who passed away of cancer, three days before Christmas. Doug left behind his beautiful Vietnamese wife, Nhung, along with their three-year-old daughter, Samantha, both of whom gave him unbelievable joy, especially in his final days.
Doug was like most of us – nondescript in looks, but unlike most, a guy you never forgot after meeting him. In the five years that I knew Doug, he never once said a nasty word about anyone. Nor did he ever betray a friendship, and he had a zillion friends, dating back to elementary school. I know that for a fact, since Chuck Reeves was one of those guys from the “old” neighborhood.
Through Chuck, a Marine Corps pilot and Vietnam veteran and now head of Qualcomm’s corporate flight program in San Diego, I recently learned of Doug’s Silver Star – a huge honor that Doug received during the Vietnam War as a young Army Lieutenant. The Silver Star is our nation’s third highest military decoration for valor, and Doug’s bravery saved many of his fellow soldiers, according to the official citation describing his actions. We had countless personal conversations, but he never mentioned his Silver Star, but that was Doug.
When you read about Jerry’s case, please know that Doug was there for us, just as he was for many returning POWs and Vietnam War families, who needed a guiding hand in a country where memories can play tricks, even on the best of us. For more information, visit http://www.shirleybrothersfriends.com/team/459.
THANKSGIVING IN INDIA — HUMANITARIAN SUCCESS STORY
After several years of hoping to visit India, the opportunity came during the Thanksgiving holiday. No turkey this year, but visiting Jeevarathni Orphanage gave new meaning to the word “thankful.”
My connection to Jeevarathni was through my husband Ron’s friendship with Manoj Cherian, a retired Indian Army officer, who now works for Qualcomm India. A few years ago Manoj was visiting San Diego and told me that his family had recently opened an orphanage for 33 children in an area outside of Bangalore.
The inspiration behind the orphanage was his brother-in-law, Captain K.J. Samual (Joey), also a retired military officer, who flew helicopters in the Indian Army. Joey and a partner started Deccan Air, which was later sold to Kingfisher Air. Joey’s good fortune provided seed money for the orphanage named after his mother, Jeevarathni. The orphanage is now growing in size, as is support from private donors and corporations.
The kids are now learning to use computers, which were recently donated to the orphanage by IBM. They attend school locally, have access to medical care and are thrilled when visitors arrive, especially those who come bearing edible gifts. Needless to say, Ron and I were a hit with a couple of chocolate birthday cakes in hand – we were treated like family with the kids calling us Uncle and Auntie.
I cried when we were preparing to leave. One of the children said to me, “Auntie’s crying!” I kissed her and told her they were tears of joy, and I meant every word. Jeevarathni has given these children hope in a country where positive sentiments don’t always reap positive results. Check out www.jeevarathni.org/
LIVING THE DREAM IN DA NANG
If it were not for one woman’s efforts five years ago, going door-to-door in the village of Son Vien, trying to find someone who remembered seeing my first husband, Capt Jerry Zimmer, USMC, crashing into the Que Son Mountains, along with his Radar Intercept Officer, 1st Lt Al Graff, we probably wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint their site. Nor would the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) have had a compelling reason to continue searching for their remains. Thanks to the persistence of Nguyen Thi Anh Hoa, 55, a highly successful translator/guide for more than 20 years, we not only found the crash site, but Hoa and I became friends in the process.
I initially met Hoa through Doug Reese, an Army veteran who settled in Vietnam for several years, before his recent return to the United States with a Vietnamese wife and baby. Hoa always rearranges her schedule whenever I am in country, and did so for my May/June 2012 visit, which was the best yet. Besides visiting Jerry’s crash site, I also received a special invitation to Hoa’s home in downtown Da Nang to meet her family and have dinner with them. I was honored.
After spending a long, hot day in the Central Highlands with some of the people I have come to know in the rural village of Son Vien, Hoa and I headed for Da Nang, and I couldn’t wait to meet everyone. Arriving at her home, located in the center of the city, we were greeted by Hoa’s grandchildren –Sarah, 9, and Pat, 7, — both being raised by Hoa and her husband, Son, to help their son, a single-parent and a professor of architecture at a university in Da Nang. They also have another son, a lawyer practicing in Hanoi, where Hoa was raised before migrating south to Da Nang.
The children were thrilled to have company for dinner and had fun speaking to me in English. Both were attending the English school in Da Nang, and it was apparent that they were happy, smart and healthy kids, thanks to a grandmother who was very conscientious about education and health. Among Hoa’s other achievements is a medical degree, earned in the Soviet Union years ago, but she ended up in the tourism industry and doesn’t seem to have regretted her decision.
Like many urban areas, Hoa’s home is located in a snug setting on a side street in Da Nang’s bustling environment. The interior is very practical and allows her to conduct business from home — she now owns a global tour service, complete with two Greyhound-style busses. We entered the house initially through an accordion-style metal door, which permits many of her neighbors with the same setup to open their doors in the morning, setup stalls and sell their fresh fish, vegetables and other necessities with ease. The large doors also provide easy access for the kids to play in the streets of their very tight-knit neighborhood. I was impressed with the functionality of their lifestyle.
The food smelled amazing and included my favorite pho (soup) and beef, dumplings with a rich Vietnamese dipping sauce and a hearty bowl of rice. I am a long-time admirer of Vietnamese food, and this was excellent. Hoa did some of the cooking, as did her live-in helper, Ba – a woman in her mid 70s, whose husband was suspected of being a double agent during the Vietnam War and apparently brutally killed by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). “He wanted to do it for the country,” she said. Five days after his death, the ARVN dropped his body off in front of their house, according to Ba, and his hands had been cut off, as had other parts of his body.
At 28, Ba was left alone to raise her two small sons, in addition to spending a year in prison after her husband’s death. “I cried all the time,” she told me, and said that throughout her incarceration, they washed her mouth out regularly with shampoo, taped her eyes shut and gave her terrible food. She lived this way in a small room with one window until her release. And although not involved with her husband’s crime, Ba said she was punished because of what he did.
When she returned home, the villagers all took care of her and five other women in the same predicament. Then one day the American military passed through her village of Dien Thang, and apparently one of the guys offered to buy her children and take them back to the United States, since she was so poor. Ba looked down while Hoa translated, telling me she often wished that her sons had gone with the soldier. “Ba has had a very difficult life,” says Hoa, explaining that she was now very happy living with Hoa’s family. “She does not want to leave,” says Hoa with a big smile.
When we sat down to eat, Son brought out a bottle of red wine to accompany our meal. He and I drank a glass, while Hoa and Ba drank soft drink. I liked Son and thought that he and Hoa made a great team. There was no doubt that the family was happy and living a dream, which 40 years ago would have been just that – a dream and nothing more. Soon after dinner, Hoa flagged down a taxi for me, and I said good-by to my friends but hopefully not forever.
*Many MIA families and veterans are not aware of the contributions made by locals in the villages and elsewhere throughout Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Over the years, JPAC has been able to locate and ultimately identify many MIAs with help from locals who know where our loved ones’ remains were buried long ago, or where a crash occurred and are willing to lead officials to that location.