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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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TBS 6-67: Healing Through Humanitarian Efforts — Part II

Thursday, October 7, 2010 @ 09:10 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

Clarissa Wells, 13, traveled with her dad, Lt Col Jack Wells, USMC, Ret, to Vietnam in 2008. They were among the group that attended the Mac Dinh Chi School's dedication ceremony for the new library. Clarissa spoke to the children of her love for books and encouraged them to use their library often.

When the Basic School Class of 6-67 decided to create a living memorial, dedicated to fallen classmates who had lost their lives in Vietnam, they built a primary school, knowing that it would perpetuate their dream and give some needy children a chance to rise above their meager economic conditions. The venture came with a hefty price tag, but the group was undaunted by the task; over time, they raised $40,000 to build this special school, located in a tiny, rural village in the Central Highlands.

With assistance from the East Meets West Foundation in Vietnam, the school emerged in 2006, and its library two years later. Lt Col Jack Wells, a key member of the Mac Dinh Chi school project, continues to support ongoing efforts to help the school children, and it’s paying off. The school now is involved with a dental program that is extraordinarily important to children whose parents earn an average of $25 per month, according to some statistics—barely enough to survive and certainly not enough for dental care.

The Basic School class helps raise funds to sponsor the program that pays for such things as dental equipment, medicines, etc. The dentists who take part in the program do so as volunteers, and one such group calls itself Team Alaska, headed by Dr. Bob Allen. Team Alaska and members of the Basic School Class—including Jack—will be back in Vietnam in March 2011 to provide follow-up care for the children of Mac Dinh Chi School.

On the lighter side, the school children are learning about American culture, too. Most people will agree that Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy rank right up there as symbols of Americana. The dolls date back to the 1920s, and the earliest ones are sought after by collectors around the world. Interestingly, the Marines have a special connection to these beloved rag dolls. It seems that Tom Wannamaker, a retired Marine Captain who went through TBS 4-67, is married to the granddaughter of the doll’s originator—Johnny Gruelle. According to Tom, Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy were the first dolls given away, more than 60 years ago, in the Marines annual Toys for Tots program.

The rag dolls even have their own magazine, called Rags, with a devoted readership that follows the exploits of Traveling Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy, thanks to the Wannamakers. Most recently, readers have traveled with their favorite rag dolls to Vietnam, where they now reside with two special children from the Mac Dinh Chi School. The rag dolls’ recent cultural foray has been chronicled in Rags Magazine by Tom and Jack—both excellent writers— who have told their stories of post-Vietnam healing through the fictional character of Raggedy Ann. The stories are special, so I hope you will read the attached PDFs—RagsTale1, and RagsTale2. You’ll want to pass them along to your friends.

Note: Lt Col Jack Wells’ new book, entitled Class of 67, has just been published and is available on Amazon. The book is an outgrowth of Jack’s realization that his Basic School Class had suffered more casualties than any other TBS class since the Korean War. So struck was he by this sad statistic that he wrote a series of memorial tributes to record the Vietnam War, as experienced by the Marines of TBS 6-67, from December 1967 to 1970.

When you visit Amazon, you will be awestruck by the book’s cover photo of Jack’s Basic School classmate, Lt. Tom Keppen, and his radio operator, LCpl Jake Jakelsky. The image was skillfully cropped so that Jack could feature Tom and Jake on the cover. The photo was taken by Marine Combat Photographer SSgt. Donnie Shearer near the DMZ, on July 6, 1968. Sadly, Tom was killed the next day. Years later, Jake posted the image on the Internet; Jack saw the shot and contacted Jake who led him to Donnie Shearer, four decades after he had taken that incredible shot.

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