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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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NOTE:  BLOG POSTS ARE NOT UPDATED, SO INFORMATION MAY HAVE CHANGED OVER TIME.

JERRY’S EXCAVATION IS OVER!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010 @ 01:09 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

Dr. Robert Mann

CIL Deputy Director/Anthropologist Dr. Bob Mann is regarded by many as the top forensic bone expert in the world.

The word is out. “The Americans have gone,” says Mr. Du, the former Vietcong farmer who led us to Jerry’s and Al’s crash site, nearly two years ago. Thanks to him, about 50 villagers were gainfully employed for a month, serving as excavation workers at the site, primarily in sifting roles. Like Mr. Du, we are waiting to hear what–if anything–the JPAC team was able to find.

It is not uncommon for an excavation to reap non-specific matter that looks like human remains, especially osseous (bone) material. At our guys’ site, I know they found a lot of life support gear on a daily basis; however, I don’t know if they found human remains; we should receive some feedback soon; namely, because JPACs Central Identification Laboratory (CIL), located in Hawaii, conducts a vetting process at the conclusion of Field Operations, before the ceremonial repatriations begin.

As I understand it, CIL Deputy Director/Anthropologist Dr. Bob Mann and a forensic dentist fly to Vietnam to conduct a Joint Forensic Review (JFR) with their Vietnamese counterparts, who are also Forensic Scientists. There are three locations in Vietnam—Hanoi, Saigon and Danang—where the vetting process can take place. Presumably if remains were found at Jerry’s and Al’s site, the JFR would be conducted in Danang. A major reason for the JFR is to ensure that Vietnamese remains are not inadvertently repatriated. Overall, the review is meant to determine human versus animal and American versus Vietnamese. I am not sure if DNA tests are conducted at that time, but if so, American MIAs in Vietnam have one of the highest percentages of DNA available for identifications. In Jerry’s and Al’s case, both mothers contributed mitochondrial DNA to help in the identification process of their children.

I met Dr. Bob Mann at the recent League meeting in Washington, D.C., and was impressed with his presentation about the CILs Forensic Academy. I later learned that he is regarded as one of the best—if not the best–forensic bone scientists in the world. And because most of the remains now found in Vietnam consist of bone fragments in various stages of degradation, I would imagine that Dr. Mann has seen it all.

Stay tuned!

Next: “Repatriating Remains.”

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