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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The Defense Department just announced a freeze in its plans to resume MIA recoveries in North Korea. According to Pentagon Press Secretary George Little, the suspension came about as a result of North Korea’s recent “threats to launch ballistic missiles” and other “actions that might be provocative–” presumably towards South Korea and other perceived foes.
Although no timeline was given when recoveries might resume, Little said that it is important for the North Koreans to return to the “standards of behavior that the international community has called for.”
This news came as JPAC was preparing to resume efforts in North Korea after a six-year absence. It was not known if a JPAC advance team had been recalled, or if the suspension had been imposed before its arrival up North. No doubt, recovery team safety was among the considerations in canceling operations.
Of our 8,000 unaccounted-for MIAs from the Korean War, it is believed that approximately 5,000 are located in North Korea. If JPAC had been able to return, the plan was to focus on two areas — Usan County and the Chosin/Janglin Reservoir, where the remains of 2,000 Marines and soldiers may exist.
In some ways, recoveries from the Korean War have suffered from some of the same challenges as those from the Vietnam War — mainly caused by political differences. However, in recent years, relations between the United States and Vietnam have continued to strengthen. Korean War MIA families had hoped that Kim Jong Un might offer new hope, but thus far he seems to be a genetic clone of his forebearers.
The upcoming Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, is believed to have played a role in the North’s increased rhetoric. President Obama is expected to visit the DMZ during the summit.
This blog was prepared with some details from Military.com (Philip Ewing).
JPAC team members are meeting in late March at the group’s headquarters in Hawaii to continue discussing ways in which they can maintain a presence in Southeast Asia, but focus more on WWII and Korean War recoveries. The buzz: “Everything is on the table.” This major change was prompted by the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which contained a mandate that JPACs Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) double its annual identifications by 2015. Vietnam War operations have never been noted for producing a watershed of recoveries; consequently this has been one of the factors affecting the rather low number of identifications over the years.
Since 1976, JPAC has worked concurrently in WWII and Korean War locations, and at some point it became apparent that the identifications in those areas were rapidly catching up with the ones in Southeast Asia, where a more concentrated effort was taking place. Plus, pressure was building from WWII MIA families to speed up recovery efforts of their missing loved ones. Sadly, Korean War MIA families were at the mercy of Kim Il Song and later his offspring, not JPAC – hopefully things are about to change, but it’s still a long shot.
With the 2010 NDAA in place, the DoD continued to revise and build the WWII database to speed up operations in Europe and the Pacific Theater; however, the DoD did not adequately prepare families of MIAs from the Vietnam War for what lie ahead. But today most of us know that the only way the CIL can comply with the new law is for JPAC to reduce its footprint in Southeast Asia and move on to more productive areas where remains apparently are easier to find and ultimately to identify, and that is what they are doing.
The big issue now is how to redistribute the “wealth” to create a balance within the MIA global recovery community, i.e., effectively giving more focus and finances to past wartime areas, other than Southeast Asia. In my heart, I want all MIAs to come home, but not at the expense of our MIAs still unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War. My first husband is still missing in South Vietnam, so I am a member of the Vietnam War MIA community and my allegiance will always be with these families, even though I do not know many of them. Read more