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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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Unilateral POW/MIA Recoveries — A Solution?

Monday, August 9, 2010 @ 12:08 AM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

Mark Stephensen, Chairman of the League Board, and Major General Stephen Tom, Commander, JPAC

The word “mandate” may have been uttered several times during the recent family League meeting in Washington, D.C., but I personally thought that “unilateral” was the winner. There are areas within Vietnam, designated as “Restricted” by the Vietnamese government for security reasons, etc, which means that JPAC cannot conduct investigations or excavations in those locations. And although restricted areas may eventually become accessible– as they often do over time, JPAC has found a way to get access to the sites through a program in which its lab in Hawaii trains Vietnamese anthropologists in the techniques required for excavations and recoveries.

As I understand it, JPAC sends an anthropologist and linguist to monitor the process and answer questions from their base, just outside the perimeter of the restricted area. Although there have been few unilateral investigations in comparison to the joint process, the Vietnamese recovery teams have cooperated with JPAC and found remains that have led to identifications.

Thus far, JPAC hasn’t used unilateral excavations for anything other than restricted areas; however, everything seems to be on the table these days, including the possibility of extending the unilateral approach beyond restricted areas. If this becomes one of the solutions in the number’s battle, then it is likely that JPAC would insist that one of our anthropologists and a linguist be on site during each operation. Obviously, the CIL would continue to perform all the lab work to determine the identifications. This would not be negotiable.

In addition, if some variation of the unilateral process were adopted, I am sure that negotiations on certified helicopter transportation for our people would need to be worked out.

Knowledgeable sources are convinced that neither JPAC nor DPMO would ever allow the Vietnamese to excavate a site completely by themselves. Nor do they think the lab or families would ever let it happen. For now, it appears to be a discussion about how to put more teams on more sites, while trying to get additional resources, to put more JPAC personnel in the field. Unilateral excavations could work in Vietnam with a proper program in place and close monitoring over time. This is one to watch!

Next blog: Jerry’s excavation!

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