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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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Elaine’s Q&A #2

Wednesday, June 16, 2010 @ 01:06 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

VMFA-542 Flightline on takeoff from Danang Airbase

Q: Are you happy with the progress of Jerry’s case and what would you do differently?
A: Knowing that we’re moving towards excavation is very positive, and I’m praying for a miracle that JPAC will find Jerry’s and Al’s remains. In retrospect, if I had to do it over again, I would have done more homework on operating inside Vietnam.

Q: What do you mean “operating” inside Vietnam?
A: I don’t want to say too much, because we have an active case, but going into Vietnam as a tourist is vastly different than going there as a family member of an MIA, gone for four decades. We did a lot of research on the frontend, trying to establish correct coordinates through our Marine network and working with JPAC. However, the Vietnamese side is equally as important, and I don’t think we spent enough time doing our homework in that area.

Q: Do you mean that the Vietnamese have been a problem?
A: No, but I’ve learned so much over the past two years. For instance, I never knew that the Vietnamese Buddhists were superstitious, especially in the rural areas. When someone dies a horrific death and is not properly buried, as in Jerry’s case, many Buddhists feel that the person’s spirit haunts them and causes great problems for the village. When Gene climbed to Jerry’s crash site with Mr. Do (a.k.a. “Du”), who performed a Buddhist burial ceremony, the real significance was that he put Jerry’s spirit to rest, at last. Why was this important? We believed that the ceremony added credibility to our case in JPACs eyes.

Q: Other than the American side, who was the most helpful in your quest to find Jerry’s crash site?
A: Without Hoa, our Vietnamese translator/guide who helped us in the beginning, I doubt that we’d have a case. Secondly, I would say Du, who lives in the village below Jerry’s crash site. The reasons why they helped us are not important, but rather that we found Jerry’s and Al’s crash site after 40 years.

Q: Will you return to Vietnam?
A: I hope to return again this summer and visit the village of Son Vien and the people at JPAC. I think this will be my last trip over there.

Q: Why do you always say good things about JPAC, when others might not agree?
A: JPAC has treated us fairly and with respect. Believe me, they have a difficult job. Ron was an FBI agent for several years, and we’ve always said that JPAC is working the ultimate in cold cases.

Q: What has been the most positive side of working on Jerry’s case?
A: Without a doubt, seeing old friends again at Jerry’s 40th Memorial Service. The list is long, but it was heartwarming for personal reasons to see Bill & Nancy Peters, Mike & Kathy Wholley, Gerry & Lynn Miller and Bonnie Hajduk.

Q: What has been the most negative side of working on Jerry’s case?
A: Reliving every aspect of my life with Jerry has been heartbreaking.

Q: Will you have closure at the conclusion of Jerry’s case?
A: It has taken me 40 years to face losing Jerry, so I doubt that closure will come in my lifetime—literally. For me, the important thing is that I do everything in my power to bring Jerry’s remains home to the USA. He truly deserves that honor, as does his RIO, Al Graf.

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