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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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SEARCHING FOR MIAs IN VIETNAM — PART TWO

Friday, June 4, 2010 @ 11:06 AM  posted by Elaine

PART TWO

Just to reiterate, “Searching for MIAs in Vietnam” contains opinions, based on my personal experiences with Jerry’s case. Each family and/or friend that is searching for an MIA in Vietnam likely will be facing different challenges — it’s important to remember that it has been nearly 40 years since the war officially ended.

To my knowledge, all MIA cases (I’m not knowlegeable about live sightings or POW’s) have been investigated by JPAC and its predecessors, dating back to the 1970s. People going into Vietnam at this point are looking for new information and/or thinking they can speed up the repatriation process. Unfortunately, the going is getting tougher, because the majority of cases now involve downed aircraft, located in areas that are logistically difficult to access.

Today, the cases being worked as priorities are ones in which JPAC has determined to have a reasonably good chance of success, based on a series of factual and plausible data. JPAC is prepared to reconsider cases when presented with new, compelling information. For instance, new information might come from villagers, but more likely from families and veterans who felt that they could turn their case around and get JPACs attention. This is what our family did, on behalf of Jerry.

We never entertained the idea of going to the crash site and digging for remains, knowing that we didn’t have the authority or the expertise to look for a needle in a haystack (blunt, but true).

What you don’t want to do is blame JPAC for not finding your MIA. Although JPAC is not perfect, recovering MIAs is a complicated process. In Vietnam, you will deal with people at the detachment level, most of whom are military personnel. In turn, they deal with counterparts in Vietnam, grieving families, JPAC leadership in Hawaii, including the Central Identification Lab that ultimately decides the validity of remains recovered from Vietnam. They also meet regularly with military brass, politicans and representatives from groups like the VFW — in addition to tour groups. Plus, they conduct intense quarterly field operations in which they investigate and excavate sites related to our MIAS. What I’m trying to say is that you’re likely to accomplish more through establishing good relations with a number of groups, not just JPAC, than going after them. Believe me, I am very demanding of myself and those around me, but I have learned (thanks to Ron) that it’s often important to work with what you have — not what you want.

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