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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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POW/MIA Families Meet in D.C. — Change is Coming

Sunday, August 1, 2010 @ 05:08 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

L-R: Sara Frances Shay; Ann Mills Griffiths, Exec. Director of the League; and Mary Louisa Shay Rutledge, at the League (more photos in the gallery).

I’m confident that many of the 300-plus families, veterans and others attending last month’s 41st annual meeting of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia (aka “the League”) returned home from Washington, D.C., with a feeling of “been there, done that.” However, it was a learning experience for me, since I was a newcomer. And although I am well versed on Jerry’s case, it was apparent that the recovery of America’s POWs and MIAs from the Vietnam War continues to be a complex issue, of which I have a lot to learn. Unfortunately, my late debut into this subculture has come at a seemingly difficult time because of economics and changing priorities.

A number of government agencies were represented by members of their leadership who delivered well prepared presentations, sat on panels or answered questions in a casual format. Represented were the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (Deputy Assistant Secretary Bob Newberry); Joint Prisoner of War/ Mia Accounting Command (Maj Gen Stephen Tom, USAR, JPAC Commander); JPACs Central Identification Laboratory (Dr. Tom Holland, Scientific Director, and Dr. Bob Mann, Director, Forensic Science Academy); Defense Intelligence Agency (BG Robert Carr, USA, Director of Operations); US-Russia Joint Commission (Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss, Ga.), and many more at the field and diplomatic levels. Several attendees weighed in on issues, ranging from the somber reality of dealing with a dwindling DoD budget, while still “keeping the promise,” to the much more upbeat picture given by JPACs Central Identification Lab of strides made in all aspects of its operations.

Although it was the first time I had met Ann Mills Griffiths, Executive Director of the League, I had been aware of her long-time efforts to bring home our loved ones from Southeast Asia. We all owe Ann, who lost a brother in Vietnam, a huge amount of respect for helping families maneuver this difficult road. Thank you, Ann! Thanks also to her well-informed “lieutenants” that sit on the League’s Board or in homes throughout the USA. Together, they keep a close watch on officials to determine the committed from the Kool-aide drinkers.

Known for not mincing words, Ann grimaced at one point and said the League was disappointed in Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Kerry was not at the annual meeting and, according to Ann, has had a history of not supporting the US-Russia Joint Commission on POWs and MIAs, which has saddened a number of families for some time. Senator Kerry and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have yet to name two Democrats to this commission, to work with their Republican counterparts. Many on the U.S. side are convinced that the Russians may be able to provide valuable archival information to help in our recovery efforts in Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos, Russia and Korea.

Gerald Farrow, a retired Army Recon soldier in Vietnam, said that he had been attending the League meetings for the past 30 years on behalf of his cousin, an MIA Army Medevac Crew Chief. In referring at one point to DASD Newberry’s budget discussion, Farrow said: “He needs a life preserver– he’s sinking quickly….” On the other hand, Farrow was quick to say that he had seen positive movement over the years in the government’s accountability efforts. It was clear that Farrow and others were determined to come back, year after year, to ensure that our government is keeping the promise.

In future blogs, I will discuss DASD Newberry’s comments about the budget and mandate for increasing identifications; Maj Gen Tom’s plans for JPAC to meet the DoD’s ID expectations and to make changes; Drs Holland and Mann’s methods of keeping the CIL on course for the future; and how the detachments and others are dealing with the ever-present challenges of bringing home our loved ones from Southeast Asia. Please stay tuned.

One Response to “POW/MIA Families Meet in D.C. — Change is Coming”

  1. Our government needed it to be the ‘forgotten war’ because of the unspeakable things we did to others . . . and not to mention the 8,177 American soldiers left behind . . . hundreds (possibly 2000) of which were still alive and in communist prison camps!


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