Our Mission:

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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SEARCHING FOR MIAs IN VIETNAM — PART ONE

Thursday, June 3, 2010 @ 02:06 PM  posted by Elaine

PART ONE

Two years ago, we began searching for Jerry’s crash site, and now we’re at a critical point in the process, as we move towards excavation to hopefully identify and repatriate his remains and those of his RIO, Al Graf, to the United States. Along the way, friends have asked me about our process so they might help a family search for a loved one, still left behind in Vietnam.

First of all, every case is unique, and our experiences may be vastly different from what someone else encounters. However, I’m happy to give advice, but it’s based on my personal opinions and only applies to MIAs in Vietnam.

1. If you decide to search for an MIA, be sure to get clearance from the next of kin. In our case, Jerry’s and my son, Craig, is the official next-of-kin. I can’t address any legalities, because that wasn’t an issue for us, but I suggest that you engage the family in the process, either as a courtesy or a necessity. Also, the next-of-kin likely will have military records and updates from the various arms of the DoD over the years.

2. Research, above all, will be the backbone of your pursuit. Thanks to the Internet, you will amass a mountain of material, using the MIAs records as a basis of your “inverted pyramid” approach. As a journalist, the inverted pyramid is used for news’ articles, i.e., giving the reader the most important, up-to-date information first, and everything else in descending order, hence your model will look like an upside down pyramid. You will adjust your information throughout the process, by adding, disgarding and tweaking. Since my husband, Ron, is an expert investigator, we had a clear advantage in this arena. But essentially you will be gathering historical data to get a clear picture of what happened and where the case now stands. If you still think the case can be brought to fruition, then you can begin casting a wider net through interviews, emails and possible visits to Vietnam to talk with sources in country, including a stop at JPACs office in Hanoi (be sure to make an advance appointment — it’s a busy place).

3. Don’t assume that you can do a hand-off to the government. The government is an institution, not a person, which means you need to get beyond the generic (government) aspect of the case and into the guts of it. The USA has thousands of MIAs still unaccounted for, from past wars, so it’s important to understand that your efforts may be the difference between the case being worked or not worked. (JUST TO EMPHASIZE, I’M TALKING ABOUT CASE PREPARATION, NOT GOING INTO VIETNAM IN SEARCH OF REMAINS — I WILL DISCUSS THAT IN PART TWO). You need to be honest in assessing your case, every step of the way, in fairness to all the other families who may have legitimate cases, waiting in the wings. Caution, if you’re a sprinter, it’s going to be a tough journey. It’s taken me most of my life to learn the art of patience, and the MIA situation will test even the most patient among us.

4. On the other hand, timing is critical, because remains are degrading in Vietnam faster than in other wartime areas. So, the sooner you prove that your MIA case is viable, based on quality, well-researched data, the more likely JPAC is to review, reopen or reinvestigate the case, depending upon your goal. If you haven’t visited JPACs website, you should do so immediately, because this group is responsible for locating, identifying and repatriating MIAs remains in Vietnam (and everywhere else).

Tomorrow: Part Two

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