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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.

Don’t Leave Our Vietnam MIAs Behind!

Monday, May 10, 2010 @ 11:05 PM  posted by Elaine

 

Jerry at VMFA-542 Ops

This is a tough one for me to write, because I don’t want to mislead people into thinking that repatriating MIAs from Vietnam is more important than bringing them home from WWII, Korea and other wartime locations.  My concern is for the urgency of getting remains out of Vietnam before they have completely disintegrated.  I don’t have a timeline, but I am told by knowledgeable sources that the situation is critical in Vietnam.   

Because of the acidic soil, JPAC typically doesn’t find remains intact like one might imagine.  We read about spectacular recoveries in the South Pacific, but seldom do we receive that type of feedback from Vietnam.  Plus, the use of high tech instruments for locating remains seem to be less applicable in Vietnam because of the topography and lack of sufficient recoverable matter — perhaps a bone and/or a tooth may be all that is found by old fashioned methods of sifting through buckets of soil.  Some might say:  “Well, why spend all that time and money for so little?”  My response:  “That little bit of remains was someone’s dad, brother, son or husband, and the family wants whatever nature has left behind.   Keep in mind, all those MIAs answered the call when our country needed them, and our country now needs to step up to its obligation.” 

The FY2010 government mandate (see previous blog) expects JPACs laboratory to double its identifications by 2015, focusing more on the numbers, not the urgency of finding remains in a country like Vietnam.   If you look strictly at results, it is apparent that JPACs identifications in Vietnam cannot compete with other areas within its command.  The laboratory made 98 identifications in FY2009 with 26 individuals from the Korean War, 19 from the Vietnam War and 53 from WWII.  I’m afraid that the numbers will become the key issue in JPACs survival.

Making the numbers even more disturbing is that public interest in Vietnam seems to be losing steam, in favor of WWII and the Korean War.  And as more remains are located in those areas, this trend will continue and possibly pick up speed.  Of course, the media coverage and romanticism of the “greatest generation” is popular now, because our country felt good about itself and hope flourished in America – something the media seems to believe that our country needs right now.  Obviously, Vietnam was never characterized as romantic, nor was it portrayed as instilling hope into the American psyche. 

And although JPAC has worked for several years with a Vietnamese counterpart, there is concern among some of us who think that the Vietnamese will begin selling its services directly to the American side, especially if JPACs efforts begin to dwindle.   On the surface, this doesn’t seem problematic, since we hire locals to help with some of the investigations and excavations.  However, we should always have Americans bringing home Americans.  Also, there is a problem with transparency in Vietnam’s laboratory practices. And while we are eager to have our loved ones returned to America, none of us wants to worry about what we’re getting in the process.  I trust the JPAC laboratory implicitly and would not feel comfortable accepting identifications of remains from any other source, especially one in which there is no transparency.

One Response to “Don’t Leave Our Vietnam MIAs Behind!”

  1. […] With JPACs 2012 financial concerns presumably settled, it is hard for me to determine if budget approval will benefit Vietnam War recoveries.  As the former wife of an F-4 Phantom pilot shot down in Vietnam and yet to have his remains repatriated to the USA, I am most interested in ensuring that work continues on behalf of our MIAs in Vietnam War locations.  Ironically, it was the 2010 NDAA that included a mandate for JPACs Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) to double its identifications of MIAs by 2015, which changed the recovery pecking order forever. (For background on the 2010 NDAA, click here.) […]


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