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.
Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam veterans’
FROM DISARRAY TO DISTINCTION
Approximately two years ago, efforts to account for our MIA service members and personnel from past wars were in serious trouble, and indirectly the DoD was tagged with the impending failure. I’m not referring to the difficulty of finding thousands of our loved ones’ remains – that’s a given, but rather the challenge of fixing the disarray that existed in the accounting program, causing MIA families and others to lose confidence in the system. Our nation’s largest global, ongoing humanitarian effort was in jeopardy – a program believed to be the only of its kind in the world today was hanging in the balance. In the end Congress gave the DoD an ultimatum: Fix it, or we’ll fix it.
Not only did the DoD meet the challenge, but in my opinion, the fix exceeded expectations.
Belated congratulations to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) on reaching full operational capability (FOC) as of January 8, 2016 – an important milestone achieved in one year, almost to the day. During the interim period, the DoD continued to account for missing personnel and provide information to MIA families, such as mine. A key element in the process appeared to be on the structural side, as in consolidating several organizations in the accounting community that had been operating quasi independently prior to the emergence of DPAA.
The importance of FOC status is a declaration that the reorganization is complete with all DoD legacy accounting organizations now merged into a single, unified defense agency headed by DPAA Director Michael Linnington. “Now is the time to sharpen our focus, increase our efforts, and maximize all aspects of our accounting efforts to better provide answers to the families of our missing.” said Linnington, of an effort that I believe was finally given proper support and respect by the powerbrokers on Capitol Hill.
NO MAN IS AN ISLAND…
Most successful leaders recognize that no man is an island, and Linnington’s style seems to ascribe to that adage. The accounting program is very demanding and multi-dimensional, so I’m sure his direct-support leadership team –civilian and military – are very capable individuals possessing topnotch skills, cultural fit, likeability and above all, capacity for dedication to the MIA accounting mission.
DPAA Principal Director Fern Sumpter-Winbush
Undoubtedly Fern Sumpter-Winbush was appointed by Linnington to serve as his DPAA Principal Director, because she fits all the necessary criteria and more for this critical support position. As a civilian hire, Winbush brings continuity to the agency. But even more important, she will be Linnington’s point person in the D.C. office, formulating policy, overseeing business development and increasing outreach initiatives, particularly in support of MIA families.
Raised in Boston, MA, Winbush was an honor graduate of the University of Massachusetts and a distinguished military graduate of Suffolk University’s ROTC program in Boston, which led to a very accomplished career in the U.S. Army, from which she retired as a full Colonel in 2015. Throughout Winbush’s career, she continued with her education and earned a Master of Science degree in National Resource Strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, attended Command and Staff College and several other high-level military schools.
Winbush’s Army career began in 1983 as an enlisted soldier in the reserves, leading to a commission in 1990. She pinned on her first bar as a 2nd Lt., transitioning into the active duty military, initially serving in Military Intelligence.
With several deployments over the years to such places as Germany, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Korea and the Netherlands, Winbush’s last tour was closer to home in command of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall — a prestigious assignment and one in which she was undoubtedly proud, serving as the second female commander and the first African-American female commander at the base. She was also the 102nd commander of Ft. Meyer, which has a history dating back to the Civil War and is located adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery.
Historical Footnote: One of Winbush’s predecessors was none other than Gen. George S. Patton, who was garrison commander at Fort Myer from 1938-40 before moving on to serve in WWII and become one of our nation’s iconic wartime heroes.
In a future blog, I will feature Sergeant Major Michael Swam, who is serving a tour of duty with DPAA as the Senior Enlisted Leader. When you read about Swam, it will be apparent that he really knows the accounting process!
Momentum appears to be picking up in the search for our missing service members and personnel from past wars, and in no small way MIA families help boost the demand. On January 23, 2016, approximately 200 family members showed up at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel – a stone’s throw from LAX — for a regional meeting, organized by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), the agency responsible for achieving the fullest possible accounting of missing Americans from the Vietnam War, Korean War, Cold War and WWII. See DPAA Regional Meeting in Boston
DPAAs global accounting mission encompasses 83,000 missing personnel; however, many are believed to be unrecoverable because of the circumstances surrounding their deaths, such as going down with a ship or aircraft in deep water. Geographically, 75% of the losses are in the Pacific.
WWII poses the biggest challenges, namely because of the sheer number of MIAs unaccounted-for, totaling 73,000. Many of the cases are incomplete or inconclusive and lack DNA reference samples on file. However, with DPAA having been given the official go-ahead to partner with outside organizations, WWII recoveries are expected to increase this year, especially in Europe.
While the number of unaccounted-for MIAs from the Vietnam War is relatively small at 1,624, of which approximately 539 are believed unrecoverable, DPAA is concerned about the rapid degradation of remains and will increase operations in FY 2016 that will hopefully speed up recoveries/identifications.
Most of the remaining cases in Vietnam involve downed aircraft in locations such as the Central Highlands, where my first husband’s F-4 was shot down. The jungle flourishes in that area and camouflages the rugged, remote topography — as well as the crash sites, requiring special teams to investigate and excavate. Laos will also see an increase in operations, but like Vietnam, weather is a concern. But unlike Vietnam, the Lao are the least flexible to changes.
The Korean War is not the forgotten war, thanks to families, veterans and the South Koreans, who have been sponsoring Korean visitation programs over the years for American veterans who served in Korea. Some of the most devoted MIA families are those with loved ones unaccounted-for in North Korea, where the political challenges are the major problem, along with sorting out co-mingled remains that were returned years ago, before technology was available to accurately determine how to organize remains and make identifications. The latter is looking very promising these days, now that technology and anthropology have things under control.
DPAAs mission may sound impossible, but like its predecessors, the agency continues to defy the odds. As an MIA family member, I am in awe of what they do.
DPAA was prepared for the large turnout and arrived with enough staff and support personnel to demonstrate its professional approach and validate that the merger of DPMO and JPAC is working. The outlook for FY 2016 is in the agency’s favor.
Interestingly, there were no unrealistic promises made, or even a hint of sugar-coating the challenges associated with each past war. In my opinion the biggest change was in the delivery of information. Honesty is paramount, but beyond that, there is a lot to be said for the quote, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.”
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Enter DPAAs Director Mike Linnington — a one-man dynamo who is rapidly rebuilding the program, from top to bottom with style, as if he were made for the job. If you look at Linnington’s background, that may well explain his determination to restore faith in the system and get the job done, as he positions DPAA to meet the demands of the future.
Having already secured buy-in from many influential partners on Capitol Hill and beyond – Dept of State, National Security Staff, Joint Staff, Casualty Offices, Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, and more, Linnington made a point of stressing that DPAA is up to the job. “We made 48 identifications in October to December, 2015 — 200 IDs will not be a problem,” he said. Linnington’s remarks put to rest concerns about DPAAs ability to comply with the 2010 Congressional mandate calling for 200 IDs per year, which some people considered a make-or-break requirement for the agency. Applause filled the room, and with good reason.
Throughout the event families were given total access to DPAAs team, which was one of the seemingly small touches that made a huge difference in the tenor of the meeting. I personally thought it was the best regional event I’d attended and would have no trouble complimenting Linnington and his staff, who had traveled from the D.C. area and/or Hawaii for a full day of presentations, etc.
In addition to Linnington, there were several core team members who took turns at the podium, such as Rob Goeke, Communications Directorate; Jack Kull, DPAA Policy; Dr. Denise To, Forensic Anthropologist/Lab Manager; and Lt. Col Alice Briones, USAF, Director, DoD DNA Registry and others involved with break-out sessions, tailored to each wartime group.
All were experts in their respective fields, speaking in terms that most of us could understand – for me, DNA is not a cakewalk, but Briones did an excellent job, and undoubtedly everyone learned the importance of submitting a DNA sample. As a fan of field operations, especially excavations, I can say without reservation that Dr. To was as good as they come with the credentials and results to prove it.
LEARNING FROM EACH OTHER*
No matter how good presenters are at turning complex information into understandable presentations, it is no easy task to reach an audience of 80-90% first-time attendees, seeking information about family members lost as far back as WWII. This dichotomy was astonishing to me, and maybe even to Linnington, as well.
“We must be getting the word out,” said Linnington, knowing that the more families DPAA can reach, the better chance he has of educating them, up close and personal, of what goes on behind the scenes — one of the best ways of avoiding misconceptions about the mission. Perhaps equally important, Linnington is upping his own learning curve.
“Learning from you is very important,” said Linnington, speaking directly to attendees, as he moved about the huge room, with a handheld mic, sometimes showing a softer side, as in telling everyone he was a new grandfather, which was well-received, along with mentioning that he has a son currently serving in the military. We laughed when he talked about leaving his wife and daughter behind with snow shovels, during the East Coast’s horrific snowstorm. “This is a good time to be in California,” he quipped, using a little bit of humor occasionally to lighten things up, and it worked. *For more complete information, covering all past wars (and better photos), visit www.dpaa.mil/
Jerry’s case is still open, as is the crash site. These are good signs and hopefully will eventually produce positive results. I will keep everyone posted — I’m not giving up at this point. Thanks for hanging in. Elaine