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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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NOTE:  BLOG POSTS ARE NOT UPDATED, SO INFORMATION MAY HAVE CHANGED OVER TIME.

ALERT! Identifications of MIAs in Vietnam in Jeopardy

Thursday, May 6, 2010 @ 03:05 AM  posted by Elaine

Families and friends of our MIAs in Vietnam should know that a new mandate was written into the Defense Authorization Act of FY2010, which is likely to do irreparable harm to repatriation efforts in Vietnam, unless the language is fixed or a miracle occurs.   And while well-meaning people pushed the right political buttons to make this happen, they surely didn’t anticipate the outcome.

The legislation mandates that JPAC , the government organization responsible for investigating, excavating, identifying and repatriating remains back to the USA, must ensure that its laboratory identify 200 “missing persons” by 2015, from wartime locations in WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, Cold War and Gulf War.  On the surface the mandate may sound wonderful to families who have been waiting for their loved ones’ remains to come home.   But here’s the catch:  JPACs results in FY2009 amounted to 98 sets of identifications, of which the greatest number came from WWII locations – the least came from Vietnam.  If forced to increase the numbers, it’s hard to image that many of the remaining MIAs in Vietnam will ever come home.  Instead, JPAC may be required to take the path of least resistance.

Although the mandate is directed at JPACs Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) in Hawaii, which is the largest forensic lab in the world, the process begins with field operations in Vietnam.  And, this is where the problem begins, as well.  Remains are degrading faster in Vietnam than in all the other wartime locations listed above.  Mostly to blame is Vietnam’s acidic soil that literally destroys skeletal remains.  In addition, for every set of remains found during field operations, JPAC typically expects that only one in three will be identified in the laboratory as an MIA. 

In addition to soil concerns, many MIAs in Vietnam were shot down in high performance aircraft of the era, which resulted in horrific crashes that encompassed large debris fields – often in highly inaccessible areas.   And realizing that the war was ongoing when the event occurred, it is anyone’s guess as to what locals may have done with the remains.  In many cases, they buried remains, especially in rural areas; however, we also know of several other possibilities.  Consequently, excavation teams typically comb a huge area, looking for remains.  The work is tedious and often dangerous, depending upon the topography.  Yet, when remains are found, the sense of accomplishment reverberates from the team, to the lab, to the homefront. 

Ironically, in several WWII locations, JPAC teams are finding remains in excellent condition, thanks to the geological conditions and cooperation by long-standing allies eager to help.  Also, the slower aircraft of the era often had softer landings, which resulted in less overall damage to the crew.  And when teams have gone in to excavate, they often retrieved multiple remains from one site.  As many will recall, bombers in WWII frequently carried large crews.  Consequently, JPAC has been able to repatriate larger numbers of MIAs from WWII, which doesn’t bode well for our MIAs in Vietnam where conditions are tough and in-country relationships can be strained at times.  

I’m sure that JPAC will continue its work in Vietnam at some level.  But “making the numbers” may force  the organization to concentrate on other areas where success is almost a given, even though time is running out in Vietnam.

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