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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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Managing Expectations for Recovery Efforts

Sunday, February 28, 2010 @ 03:02 AM  posted by Elaine

Last known photo of Capt Jerry Zimmer, USMC, & 1st Lt Al Graf, USMC, before their F4 Phantom was shot down, Aug 29, 1969.

Joe Kristek is a long-time member of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) organization of North Carolina where he now lives with his family; however, as a youth, Joe attended Vestal High School in upstate New York with Jerry and has been an ongoing supporter of recovery efforts. Joe retrieved a DNA sample several years ago from Jerry’s mom, and because of him, we have mitochondrial evidence on file, should Jerry’s remains be found.

Joe recently passed along an email from Bill Duker, chairman of the Veteran’s Initiative program for the VVA. While reading Bill’s email, two benign sentences jumped out at me. Bill said, “I just hope that there are still some remains that can be recovered and identified.  Sometimes the jungle just takes everything back and there is nothing left.”

Interestingly, I am prepared for whatever happens — even if the remains of my first husband, Capt Jerry A Zimmer, are not retrieved but, instead, JPAC finds those of his RIO, 1st Lt Al Graf. I have not said a lot about Al, because it’s difficult to maintain a blog for two people; yet, I have always felt that we’re looking for two people — Jerry and Al. What makes us feel that remains are likely to be found is that our investigation concluded the following: When the aircraft hit the flat-top mountain, we believe that the cockpit section separated from the rest of the fuselage and ended up at a lower level, causing a crater. We also believe that the major burnout of Napalm, bombs and fuel occurred at the impact point, approx. 100 meters above. Plus, there is a possibility that some remains were buried by locals years ago, as has been the case at other sites in Vietnam.

But the more important thing about recovery of remains 40 years later — and many more years for WWII casualties — is that digging, sifting, metal detection, etc, are some of the techniques used by excavation experts. Moreover, the leaders often have backgrounds in anthropology and archaeology along with other skills. (See JPAC at “Articles and Links” to learn more).

I’ve learned a lot since undertaking this journey to bring Jerry home, but one very important revelation stands out: Every member of the military that I’ve come across — active duty and retired — is truly proud of America’s ongoing effort to bring home our loved ones. And as BGen Gerry Miller said: “Jerry and Al deserve to come home.”

2 Responses to “Managing Expectations for Recovery Efforts”

  1. Larry Karch says:

    I was in VMFA-542 when Jerry and Al died. I still remember the sick feeling in my stomach when I heard about the crash. Both Jerry and Al were fine persons and Marines. I flew often with both of them. I also think about them often as I do others in the squadron who did not return.

    I don’t know much about how JPAC works, but I offer another suggestion: use the local population to get a formal JPAC recovery process started. If the approximate GPS coordinates of the crash site are known, then offering a series of bounties (not more than a few hundred dollars each) to the locals to find and bring in pieces of Jerry & Al’s F-4B aircraft would be a great way to justify getting a JPAC team on-site to perform a more detailed search.

    GPS receivers are cheap now and for the possibility of earning a few hundred U.S. dollars, there would probably be many locals who would hike into the jungle and see what they could find and hopefully bring out.

    The hard part might be to find a person in the local area who would serve as a trusted agent for paying out bounties. There are a lot of crashed aircraft in Vietnam and there would be many who would grab a piece of aircraft from any crash site in order to get a bounty.

    I hope this suggestion helps in some small way towards bringing Jerry and Al home. I for one would be very willing to contribute to a bounty fund to implement this idea.

    Sincerely,

    Larry Karch

  2. Elaine says:

    Hi Larry,
    Thanks for checking in — we’re in reasonably good shape (I think) with JPAC. They appear to be ready to excavate, since they placed Jerry and Al’s site on the excavation list. We’re hoping something happens in the near future. Please stay connected — it’s wonderful to hear from you. Elaine


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