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 ‘Vietnam Heroic Efforts’ Category
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Whenever Marine aviators, from the Vietnam War to the Gulf War, got together – whether they flew fixed wing or helicopters, the sky was the limit and pushing it was the norm, as in no guts, no glory. As the wife of an F-4 Phantom pilot killed in combat, I witnessed the early stages of what became a life-long bond among a special subset of Marine pilots and Radar Intercept Officers (RIOs), who flew the F-4, a supersonic fighter jet with a proud 30-year Marine Corps history.
Although their style might not be perceived as politically correct by today’s standards, these Marine aviators had an indomitable lust for life that made them and the F-4 legendary. Undoubtedly, that can-do spirit rubbed off on some of us who lived — even for a short time — within this tight-knit, Marine Corps community.
In November, 2011, Maj Gen Mike “Lancer” Sullivan pushed out a thousand emails across the Internet, ultimately forming a database that best explains how the idea of organizing the first all-Marine F-4 Phantom Foray turned into reality a year later. Several hundred Marine aviators and guests descended upon San Diego, November 1-4, 2012, and although now history, the Foray was a powerful reminder that this popular fighter jet may be gone, but the connection among the aviators who flew her is still very much alive.
This blog is about three Marines, who rekindled the camaraderie of an era when the Phantom ruled and its aviators lived up to expectations in the air and on the ground.
The Marine Corps’ high regard for the F-4 had a lot to do with its long service and versatility — but to a group of young, cocky pilots, it was the hottest jet of the day, having already set 16 World altitude and speed records by 1962 when it arrived at the first two Marine squadrons. Over time, the Marine Corps had 25, F-4 squadrons until production of the aircraft ended in 1992. As a career Marine, Lancer flew F-4s in five different squadrons, and the same applied to his long-time F-4 buddies, Col. Bob “Fox” Johnson, and Col. JP “Monk “ Monroe, who teamed up with him to help make the Foray happen.
Middle of the action – Lancer & Fox
Monk & the Capellupos
Although unable to attend the first All-Marine F-4 Phantom Foray, I connected with Lancer, Fox and Monk, the three guys whose efforts brought back the era of the F-4 Phantom that so many aviators and aircraft support personnel in the Marine Corps still cherish. My thanks go to them for sharing the details of this successful, four-day event.
Like most reunions, I know you had to be there to really appreciate the celebratory atmosphere, but interviewing these guys was a celebration in itself, as demonstrated by their enthusiasm for the Foray. I want to thank them for remembering F-4 brothers, like Jerry & Al, whose lives were cut short in Vietnam many years ago, with a beautiful memorial service that drew over 300 Foray attendees prior to their departure.
POST-FORAY STORY: www.bringingjerryhome.com/2013/02/marine-f4-phantom-foray-dj-vu/
The Marine F-4 Phantom Foray is coming to San Diego, CA, 1-4 November 2012, and the number of attendees is building as word gets out among veterans who flew this tremendously beloved supersonic jet. The Marines of VMFA-314 (Black Knights) received the Corps’ first F-4Bs in June 1962, at MCAS El Toro, which was adjacent to Mission Viejo and sadly now closed.
But the event will be held at the Town & Country Hotel, conveniently located off Interstate 8 in Mission Valley, a short distance from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD), about 15-20 minutes from MCAS Miramar in the northern portion of the city and 30-40 minutes from Camp Pendleton in North County. The Marines rule in this part of the country, so East and West Coast Marine F-4 pilots and crew will be right at home in San Diego.
Reunions are infamous for reviving – often in a spectacular way — events of historical or meaningful significance, even though the redundancy may last just a few days. For hundreds of Marine jet pilots, the upcoming F-4 Foray is expected to place a bunch of jet jocks back in the seat – metaphorically speaking –of the aircraft that was as tough to earn the right to fly as it was to perform life or death missions in the Vietnam War and elsewhere. If it is true that the last fighter pilot has already been born, then the Marines attending this reunion should feel proud that as former F-4 pilots and RIOs, they are part of another very special brotherhood.
The F-4 Foray will draw hundreds of former Marine pilots, RIOs, crew chiefs, mechanics, reps, families and special guests, most of whom were involved with F-4s over the years. There will be Ready Rooms spread throughout the hotel for maximum hospitality and several outside tours to Marine-related locations. (Visit www.afr-reg.com/F4Foray for more information). The highlight of the three-day event is expected to be the Saturday night banquet dinner in the hotel when Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos speaks to his Marines, as in “once a Marine, always a Marine.” The Commandant flew F-4s early-on in his career and is the first pilot in history to serve in his current position as Commandant. Well liked by all who know him and respected by those who only know of him – yours truly included, the Saturday evening dinner is certain to be a big deal.
Also speaking at the banquet will be special guest John Capellupo, past President of McDonnell Aircraft, builder of 5,057 F-4 Phantom IIs, for the Navy, Air Force and Marines. Production of F-4s ended in the United States in 1979, moving to Japan’s Mitsubishi, which built 138 Phantoms with the last one off the assembly line in 1981. Although no longer in production, the Phantom is still used in several countries worldwide, and nowadays the U.S. military uses it as a target drone. Also, according to organizers of the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the Vietnam War, the Marine Corps had more F4 Phantom squadrons – 25 to be exact – in service throughout the world during the Vietnam War than any other single type aircraft squadron before or since Vietnam – a stunning number, since Marine Corps aviation just marked its 100th Anniversary this year. Another interesting hallmark is that the F4 was the only demonstration aircraft used concurrently by both the Navy/Marine Blue Angels (1969-74) and the Air Force Thunderbirds.
LIFE AS AN F-4 PHANTOM WIFE — BRIEFLY
The F-4 will always have a special place in my heart, since my first husband, Capt Jerry Zimmer, worked harder than words can explain to get selected to fly F-4s and was killed flying one in Vietnam. So competitive was the Marine Corps flight school program that the number of slots for jets – never mind F-4s – in each graduating class during Jerry’s era (’67-’68) was sometimes non-existent or limited to one or two slots — timing truly was a big deal. A number of Marines transitioning from helicopters, infantry or another MOS, went through an Air Force exchange program and some had an opportunity to get into F-4s through that channel — it is my understanding that the Air Force had more F-4s than the Navy or the Marine Corps. My friend, retired Marine Col Jack Gagen, went through the Marine flight program but served his first Vietnam tour with the Air Force in F-4s and his second with the Marines in VMFA-542, later going on to command F-4 squadrons at MCAS El Toro and MCAS Yuma, AZ. Read more