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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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JPAC UP CLOSE

Wednesday, January 26, 2011 @ 12:01 AM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

L-R: Anthropologist Sean Tallman, Scientfic Director Dr. Tom Holland, Deputy Scientific Director Dr. Bob Mann at the Central Identification Lab (CIL) at JPAC Hq. They are standing behind a table, containing the tools of their trade as forensic anthropologists. In the background, enclosed in glass, is the working portion of the lab.

JPAC is operational, which means that most—if not all–of the leadership and staff have served in the field at one time or another. This has enabled them to learn about the intricacies of recoveries, negotiations with foreign governments and problems that arise from personnel accidents, logistical glitches and a variety of emergencies, of which can include being dangerously close to an unexploded ordinance falling from a tree after “nesting” there for 40 years (this actually happened in Laos).

Increasingly, JPAC is focusing on WWII, hoping to recover more MIAs, 65 years after that war ended, while not impeding its efforts elsewhere—most notably in Vietnam. In addition, JPAC continues to tackle the seemingly impossible job of sorting out co-mingled and poorly preserved remains from the Korean War—so complex is the effort that the CIL has assigned a team solely to this project—very sad, indeed. And although North Korea is currently out of reach, JPAC will return when given the green light.

JPAC typically conducts quarterly operations around the world. Until I visited an excavation site in Vietnam as a journalist (not Jerry’s site), I truly didn’t appreciate the complexity of the situation and how hard JPAC teams work. That visit left a lasting impression, despite being told that I was visiting an easy excavation site–I have since seen photos of some tough ones, and they weren’t kidding.

In conclusion, it will be interesting to watch JPAC evolve into a world-class organization with a larger work force and state-of-the-art laboratory. Questions remain in my mind about the need for more detachments in key areas; additional satellite labs, besides that which is already planned for the Continental U.S.; and how successful JPAC will be in creating an environment to satisfy naysayers that question their every move. Of course, none of this will be relevant if funding is not forthcoming very soon, but I’m banking on the fact that the American people won’t let our government walk away from this one!

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