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 ‘Personal’ 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/
Q. The biggest challenge to working on Jerry’s case?
A. It’s the emotional aspect — no doubt about it! Waking up every morning since his case was reopened and trying to stay upbeat about a very sad event in my life — Jerry meant the world to me, and reliving every aspect of our time together is beyond difficult. I am still close to his mom, and I will always be heartbroken for her and other family members, especially Jerry’s and my son, Craig.
Q. Do my comments about Jerry bother Ron?
A. I’m sure they hurt in some ways, but Ron is not competing with someone who is going to come walking through the door. Years ago, I truly felt that I would need to make a decision between the two, because Jerry would come home, but that was as a result of being young and thinking he was invincible. Hope doesn’t replace reality. Ron knew how I felt when we married, and I never hid my feelings about Jerry from him. As a former combat pilot, serving in Vietnam, this made all the difference in our relationship. Ron did a wonderful job of raising Craig for which I will always be grateful — plus, we have now been married for decades.
Q. Why not let JPAC do the job?
A. I do, but there are still 80,000-plus MIAs unaccounted-for from past wars, and I have been in a unique position to recruit a lot of help from Ron, a retired Marine and also a helicopter pilot, and many active duty military and veterans, all of whom have brought something useful to the case. At one point, Ron compiled all our information into a very detailed PowerPoint and handed it to JPAC to help them do their job.
Q. Do you get special attention from JPAC?
A. Yes and no — access would be a better word, but that access is not exclusive to me. After attending several Family League meetings in D.C. and regional ones around the country, traveling to JPAC headquarters in Hawaii with Ron and visiting Detachment 2 in Vietnam on several occasions, I have come to know the people who do this work and have a huge amount of respect for them – at headquarters and in the detachments. I hope they feel likewise. Our family could not do this without JPACs help. Missteps in the mid ’90s placed the case in the “No Further Pursuit Category,” and as a result JPAC has tried hard to rectify the error. In the end, we are like everyone else with an MIA still unaccounted for, JPAC cannot make the remains appear – time has taken its toll on all remains from the Vietnam War, no good deeds can ensure a happy ending. This is the reality.
Q. What would you do over?
A. Not tell anyone that I was writing a book, which actually began while living in Hong Kong! I have been a writer/editor for years, but writing a first-person account of something that was such a happy time in my life — but became the most painful — has been very difficult. I jokingly told a friend recently that I needed a writing therapist. As a long-time non-fiction writer, who has typically focused on third-person stories – not first person, the subject matter is very personal, and I’m not used to sharing in that way. But, after assessing my strengths on how to best honor Jerry’s memory, in addition to championing his repatriation, I decided writing this book was the best thing I could do.
Q. Why do a blog if writing a book is so painful?
A. The blog is part of a bigger picture involving MIAs from the Vietnam War and beyond. It is important that everyone do their part to help keep the MIA situation on the front burner – this is what we do for military heroes who sacrificed their lives for our country and never came home for a proper burial. As a writer, I can contribute, and this is what I am doing.
Q. Aren’t you afraid that someone will steal your blog material for a book?
A. No. I have been in this business for a long time, and my material is protected by copyright law. I take no donations, nor do I sell anything on my site. But as a professional journalist, I am very hardcore when it comes to plagiarism – especially involving a book on this subject. Most people would not think of infringing, but unfortunately I have met a couple of people, who I won’t name, in the MIA community that have serious fraudulent pasts, and nothing they might do would surprise me. I am prepared. However, I do not mind sharing my blogs and photos with credit — the idea is to bring more people into the fold. I try to be accurate but generally don’t update each blog — use at your own risk.
Q. When is your book expected to be published?
A. I have no idea – the case takes priority, as does my blog.
Q. What bothers you most since working on Jerry’s case?
A. Disingenuous people who try to benefit by preying on others’ emotions, especially our veterans — I stay away from those people. Sadly, Facebook and other social media have given a forum to unvetted people who spend time denigrating people for sympathy and gain. I’ve tried to interface with good people and approach bringing Jerry home as a solid, ethical journey. I have lived a very good life, and I credit Jerry and Ron for inspiring me to become a writer. Using this skill has allowed me to give back.
Q. Is the case nearing the end?
A. I believe that the field portion is certainly near the end, but if remains are found, then it’s up to the folks in JPACs lab to determine if they belong to Jerry and/or Al. And, there is no guarantee that either guy’s remains will be found. But I do not know when and/or if JPAC will return to Jerry’s and Al’s site.