Our Mission:Jerry was an F4 Phantom 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 because of the altitude and trajectory of the aircraft. They were initially 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 – regardless of their original classification.
Although Jerry has been gone for four decades, our family learned that his remains might be recoverable, so we are doing everything possible to work with JPAC to make this happen and bring Jerry home to the United States where he belongs.
Posts Tagged ‘LtC Todd Emoto’
As the former wife of an MIA, still unaccounted for in Vietnam, I have spent much of my life trying to figure out if I could have done something more for my first husband, Capt. Jerry Zimmer, for whom this blog is dedicated. Unlike many wives who worried about their husband’s aircraft being shot down, I never thought for a minute that Jerry would not come home. He was invincible in my eyes, and I was totally unprepared when the unthinkable happened on August 29, 1969.
I’ve come to accept the realization that guilt follows most MIA family members for one reason or another, and I am no exception.
For many of us, the ability to transfer some of the burden to the accounting community, consisting of several groups, including the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) and Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), has been a blessing; but for some, it has become a transference of blame to someone else.
BOOTS ON THE GROUND
Those who follow efforts to recover our service members from past wars, now classified as MIAs, know that our active duty military plays an important role. And with the evolution of the recovery program, focused these days on a much larger mission, involving MIAs in the many thousands, our military’s humanitarian outreach is expected to become even more critical and quadruple over time. In my opinion, the program cannot survive without members of our military.
Most active duty members I’ve met during my many visits to Vietnam have also served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have been a long-time advocate of our military, but never to the extent that I am today. These young men and women, who work behind the scenes and receive little-to-no recognition, are my heroes. They truly understand the mission, perhaps better than most, since they have been there, done that and made it out alive.
What many MIA followers do not realize is that military members, assigned to JPAC field operations, know of the negative media publicity that has surfaced in recent months, often focused on JPAC. Working in unbelievable conditions, trying to bring home our loved ones, our military take these hits personally.
THE LEARNING CURVE
I did not know of JPAC until recent years. As the military command, headquartered at Hickam AFB in Honolulu, HI, that searches former battlefields throughout the globe, JPAC is the operational wing within the accounting community that conducts field investigations and excavations, hoping their efforts will lead to recoveries and identifications of MIAs through material evidence, DNA and other forensic techniques. JPACs Central Identification Laboratory (CIL), also located at Hickam, has the final say in all identifications, as it seeks to reunite families with their loved ones for burial in the United States, the country for which they paid the ultimate price.
When I began writing about our family’s quest to bring home Jerry’s remains, I had finally found a way to help Jerry and hopefully a few others involved in the process. Although I knew little about JPACs mission, I was accustomed to traveling throughout the world and thanks to my husband, Ron, a Marine veteran who has given me all his FF mileage and much more, I landed at the door of JPACs Detachment 2 in Hanoi again and again. Today, MIA family members are no longer afraid to visit Vietnam, and in most cases, they also end up at the detachment. Armed with a lot of luck and solid research, many of us have become quasi participants in our loved one’s case.
What the future holds for our MIAs is anyone’s guess. With the mandate in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requiring that the CIL produce 200 identifications annually by 2015 and thereafter, the bar has been set incredibly high.
JPAC and DPMO were expected to come up with a plan, outlining their vision for an overhaul of the accounting community for Senate sub-committee hearings this fall; however, Sen. Clair McCaskill (D-MO), chair of the committee, just announced that she is writing legislation to extend the deadline by one year — presumably Congress has a busy schedule with healthcare and election issues until then. This will offer JPAC more time to get its house in order, and DPMO is likely to be making some internal upgrades, as well.
Meanwhile our military is still on the job, performing this enormous humanitarian mission to bring home our loved ones –an effort that makes America different and to one Vietnamese cabbie, a place he thinks of as “heaven.”
If you follow JPACs repatriation efforts, leading to identifications of MIAs from past wars, then you already know that there are many ceremonies for fallen heroes, finally home from former battlefields around the world.
I was privileged to attend a recent MIA Repatriation Ceremony that highlighted the first leg of their journey home from Vietnam. Here is a look at how JPACs Detachment 2 in Hanoi conducts this special send-off.
I arrived in country in early September 2013, at the conclusion of JPACs quarterly field operations. I had an opportunity to observe several teams, consisting primarily of military and civil service specialists on their way back to Hickam AFB in Hawaii. They were among an approximate 100 boots-on-the-ground in the Central Highlands that had spent nearly a month investigating and excavating several sites with the hope of repatriating as many of our Vietnam War MIAs as possible to the United States.
Their successful efforts were the reason for the Repatriation Ceremony that I was about to observe. And although I was looking at three small wooden boxes, lined in red velvet, containing unidentified remains that hopefully belonged to American MIAs, I knew they did not come from the crash site of my first husband, Capt Jerry Zimmer and his radar intercept officer, 1st Lt Al Graf, whose site was excavated during those same quarterly field operations.
As the former wife of an MIA still unaccounted-for, I also knew that three families, who had been waiting decades for a father, son or brother to come home, might soon have closure. Earlier on the day of the ceremony, a preliminary test, conducted jointly by a JPAC anthropologist and another from the Vietnamese side, determined that the remains were not Vietnamese, which cleared the way for them to leave Vietnam.
It is important to note that the Vietnamese retain the remains after the test, until the handover takes place at the Repatriation Ceremony, which often follows on the same day, as was the case during my visit, or soon thereafter. Also, this test does not determine the identification of the remains, which is conducted later in JPACs Central Identification Laboratory at Hickam.
Although Repatriation Ceremonies can take place at different airports in Vietnam, they usually are performed in the area where the majority of field operations are conducted during a particular quarter. I was truly honored to attend the Repatriation Ceremony, held on the tarmac at Da Nang International Airport – a location that was home to many Marine and Air Force fixed wing squadrons during the Vietnam War, including Jerry’s F-4 squadron, VMFA-542. But instead of looking up at an F-4, I was focused on a large transport aircraft that would soon be filled with our military, escorting the unidentified remains back to the U.S. — possibly after being MIA for four decades in Southeast Asia.
Despite the 90+ degree heat that bounced off the tarmac and left me looking and feeling like I’d run a marathon in a sweat suit, it was a humbling experience to be among the large gathering of team members, invited guests, diplomats, Vietnamese officials and JPAC’s military leadership and civil service employees from Detachment 2 in Hanoi.
Since this was LTC Julian Tran’s first Repatriation Ceremony as JPAC Commander of Det 2, it was heartwarming to see him begin his tour on a successful note. Born in Vietnam, LTC Tran left as a teenager, traveling by foot and encountering great danger along the way, but ultimately became an American citizen and an Army officer. Tran’s goal during his two-year tour was clear: Bring them home, he told me, without blinking an eye. Flanked by U.S. Consul General Rena Bitter, newly arrived in Vietnam, attending her first Repatriation Ceremony, Tran was also accompanied by officials from the Vietnam Office for Seeking Missing Persons (VNOSMP). With assistance from a joint US military honor guard, the handover between the Vietnamese and Americans was brief but very dignified, as shown in the attached photos. I was proud to be an American and hoped that Jerry knew I was there for him, as well.
Post Script: As I was preparing to leave at the conclusion of the ceremony, one of the Vietnamese officials that had participated in the handover ran over to shake my hand. Since we had a language problem, I asked Casualty Resolution Specialist Ron Ward to translate, and he told me that the Vietnamese Colonel remembered me from our visit to Jerry’s crash site in May, 2012.
When the Americans and Vietnamese — which included the Colonel — were traveling to various sites last year, I was allowed to accompany them to Jerry’s and Al’s site. This wonderful opportunity enabled me to write about the experience and hopefully to give readers insight into the unbelievable challenges involved in repatriating our loved ones. Watching the three sets of remains being transferred to an American aircraft and then seeing the Colonel again, I found myself reflecting on the day of last year’s visit to Jerry’s crash site and was reminded of what it took to make this day’s Repatriation Ceremony happen.