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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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Former Vietnam POW Dr. Hal Kushner – For Love of Country and the 1-9th!

Saturday, February 26, 2011 @ 03:02 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

Looks are deceiving! This historical photo shows Dr. Hal Kushner being released from a North Vietnamese prison in 1973, after 5 1/2 years.


By coincidence, Dr. Hal Kushner, a former Vietnam POW, is a friend of Dr. Woody Hunt, the 2011 Commodore of San Diego Yacht Club. I’ve always felt a special kinship with Woody, knowing that his pre-ophthalmologist days in San Diego were in the Navy during the Vietnam War as a flight surgeon–sometimes flying backseat in F4s–the aircraft that my first husband, Capt Jerry Zimmer, USMC, flew in Vietnam before he was shot down and declared MIA.

Thinking Woody would be interested in Dr. Kushner’s story, my husband, Ron, emailed him the following copy, along with a few other former military doctors. In the small-world category, Woody told Ron that he has known Dr. Kushner for many years and that he practices ophthalmology in Daytona Beach, FL –Woody’s old hometown. Although Woody was in the Navy, he knew that his friend was also a flight surgeon in the Army but nothing of Dr. Kushner’s horrific experiences as a POW. I think anyone who reads Dr. Kuchner’s story will agree with Woody: “His is an incredible story of survival, fidelity and humility which he kept largely to himself. I am proud to know him.”

Nothing has been edited in Dr. Kushner’s speech, nor have I split up the copy with teaser excerpts. Once you start reading his remarks, I know you’ll be riveted.

“An inspirational story about an American hero; the story of a very brave and dedicated U.S. Army Flight Surgeon, as told to his peers at the 1st Cavalry reunion at Ft. Hood….” A Friend

The Words of Dr Hal Kushner….
“I want you to know that I don’t do this often. I was captured 2 Dec.1967, and returned to American control on 16 Mar.1973. For those of you good at arithmetic 1931 days. Thus it has been 32 years since capture and 26 years since my return. I have given a lot of talks, about medicine, about ophthalmology, even about the D Day Invasion as I was privileged to go to Normandy and witness the 50th anniversary of the invasion in Jun.1944. But not about my captivity. I don’t ride in parades; I don’t open shopping centers; I don’t give interviews and talks about it. I have tried very hard NOT to be a professional POW. My philosophy has always been to look forward, not backward, to consider the future rather than the past. That’s a helluva thing to say at a reunion, I guess. In 26 years, I’ve given only two interviews and two talks. One to my hometown newspaper, one to the Washington Post in 1973, and a talk at Ft. Benning in 1991 and to the Military Flight Surgeons in 1993. I’ve refused 1,000 invitations to speak about my experiences. But you don’t say no to the 1-9th, and you don’t say no to your commander. COL Bob Nevins and COL Pete Booth asked me to do this and so I said yes sir and prepared the talk. It will probably be my last one.

I was a 26-year-old young doctor, just finished 9 years of education, college at the University of North Carolina, med school at Medical College of VA, a young wife and 3 year old daughter. I interned at the hospital in which I was born, Tripler Army Med Center in Honolulu, HI. While there, I was removed from my internship and spent most of my time doing orthopedic operations on wounded soldiers and Marines. We were getting hundreds of wounded GIs there, and filled the hospital. After the hospital was filled, we created tents on the grounds and continued receiving air evacuation patients.

So I knew what was happening in Vietnam. I decided that I wanted to be a flight surgeon. I had a private pilot’s license and was interested in aviation. So after my internship at Tripler, I went to Ft. Rucker and to Pensacola and through the Army and Navy’s aviation medicine program and then deployed to Vietnam. While in basic training and my Escape & Evasion course, they told us that as Doctors, we didn’t have to worry about being captured. Doctors and nurses they said were not POWs, they were detained under the Geneva Convention. If they treated us as POWs, we should show our Geneva Convention cards and leave. It was supposed to be a joke and it was pretty funny at the time.

I arrived in Vietnam in Aug.1967 and went to An Khe. I was told that the Division needed two flight surgeons; one to be the div. flight surgeon at An Khe in the rear and the other to be surgeon for the 1-9th a unit actively involved with the enemy. I volunteered for the 1-9th. The man before me, CPT Claire Shenep had been killed and the dispensary was named the Claire Shenep Memorial Dispensary. Like many flight surgeons, I flew on combat missions in helicopters, enough to have earned three air medals and one of my medics, SSG Jim Zeiler used to warn me: “Doc, you better be careful. We’ll be renaming that dispensary, the K&S Memorial Dispensary.”

I was captured on 2 Dec., 1967 and held for five and a half years until 16 Mar, 1973. I have never regretted the decision that I made that Aug. to be the 1-9th flight surgeon. Such is the honor and esteem that I hold the squadron. I am proud of the time I was the squadron’s flight surgeon. Click here for continuation of the speech.

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