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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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Home from Vietnam – The Village People

Friday, April 2, 2010 @ 09:04 PM  posted by Elaine

The 100-meter spider hole in Du's backyard is still visible.

 

Getting ready for the hike to Jerry’s crash site: L-R: Du, Anh & Bill Ervin, Gerard, Bay, Cuong, Gene

The Que Son Mountains: The mountain in the background is the location of Jerry's crash site.

I’m finally getting back to normal after succumbing to a few days of Vietnam/Hong Kong jetlag.  My trip was very worthwhile, and I hope to bring everyone up to date in future blogs.  I will be posting my Vietnam images this weekend, so don’t forget to check them out for an up-close view of my travels, especially to an excavation site outside of Saigon.

If you’ve been following Jerry’s case, you know that the village of Son Vien is an important landmark because of its proximity to the crash site.  In just a year’s time, it appears that life has gotten better for the village, and Du seemed more interested this time in playing the role of a village leader.  I typically don’t get involved with politics when visiting Vietnam; however, it was interesting that the word “communism” crept into their conversation – via a translator – a few times, but I didn’t take the bait. 

While visiting Du’s home, I was amused to see that the number of curious villagers increased throughout my stay.  I finally was able to separate the family members from the neighbors.   The women were much more cordial this time, so it was apparent to me that my visit was a good thing, not a negative.

Of course, the big carrot is that Du and his friend, Bay, will be JPACs primary contacts when the excavation takes place.  This means that a lot of villagers will be gainfully employed for approximately a month.  And although life is better, there is always a need to make money – especially in the rural sectors.  I would love to be a fly on the wall during the negotiations, in which JPAC sends out an advance team to work with the Vietnamese to determine the cost of doing an excavation on their land.  (In talking with JPAC, I learned that there was a 10-day delay in a scheduled excavation this time because of a problem in negotiating the price of a tree.  While this may seem to be a minor glitch, i.e., give the Vietnamese whatever they want for the bloody tree, the process doesn’t work that way.  Precedence comes into play, and Det 2 Commander LtCol Todd Emoto’s mandate is to keep a close eye on the budget.)  I’m hopeful that Jerry’s crash site turns out to be a win-win situation for JPAC and the Vietnamese.

Prior to my departure for Vietnam, I was contacted by Reuters, who had read about Jerry’s case in a recent San Diego Union Tribune article – I believe they picked up the story from the wire service.  The Bureau Chief wanted to cover my visit to the crash site, etc., as part of the 35th anniversary since the fall of Saigon.  I told Reuters that my disability wouldn’t allow me to make the hike; however, I explained that Gene Mares would be going to the impact and secondary locations, and they could tag along with him.  When Reuters placed their request with the Foreign Press Ministry in Hanoi, as is customary, they mentioned my name in context with the crash site.  This set off a chain of events that prevented Reuters from covering the “crash site” story (I’m simplifying the details, but you get the idea).  Journalists always need to have a press person with them whenever covering anything in a communist country.  It’s not a big deal, but you generally cover the handler’s expenses for the duration, so I was happy to be exempt from that situation.)

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that the government has any negative feelings about me, personally, quite the contrary.  Their concern about the crash site has more to do with excavation site protocol.  And since my name is associated with Jerry’s case, the Vietnamese government is very cautious NOT to give JPAC the impression that the crash site is not being protected, now that it’s on the excavation list. 

However, Gene did climb to the crash site with Gerard, the Canadian professor; Bill Ervin, an ex-pat guide; and local villagers Bay and Cuong.  Because of a recent typhoon, they took a different route up the mountain, which was much easier than last year’s trek; yet, they were not able to climb to the point of impact because the jungle was so thick and time was short.   I know Gene was disappointed, but his efforts will pay off in the end – maybe sooner, rather than later.

One Response to “Home from Vietnam – The Village People”

  1. Tim Mahar says:

    Elaine,
    Welcome home. Glad to hear you, Gene and “the crew’ are home safe. Your blogs are very interesting, as to the facts that most of us are unaware. Thank you for all the time and consideration for letting the rest of us know.
    Now, try to get caught up on some much deserved rest. God Bless. Semper Fi.
    Tim


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