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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.

MIA Unilateral Recoveries

Friday, February 11, 2011 @ 05:02 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

It may be back to the future with the Vietnamese conducting more unilateral operations to help speed up recovery efforts, as JPACs global MIA responsibilities expand. In simple terms, unilateral refers loosely to the Vietnamese going solo on operations that hopefully will result in recoveries of our MIAs; however, the term has evolved greatly since the early, post Vietnam War days. Today, most–if not all–“unilateral” work in Vietnam involves a close relationship with Det 2 in Hanoi, in which our people monitor unilateral activity, provide case data and summon our forensic experts to validate recovered material–human and/or animal, before it leaves the country.

And while the prognosis for continued efforts in Vietnam is less bright than even five years ago, no one is expecting a big pullout, especially since we have a finely tuned infrastructure in Hanoi, both in Det 2 and the US Embassy.

Unbeknownst to a lot of people—the Vietnamese conducted all authorized, in-country POW/MIA recovery operations until July 1985. This is when the first joint operation took place, involving the Joint Casualty Resolution Center (JCRC), Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) and the Viet-Nam Office for Seeking Missing Persons (VNOSMP)—a decade after the war had ended. Although politics frequently resulted in stop-and-start operations, the joint process lived through the interruptions.

JCRC–which ultimately metamorphosed into JPAC, knew that working with the VNOSMP would offer the best chance of attaining the fullest possible accounting of our missing, and that has been the primary modus operandi for many years. (Unilateral investigations and excavations done over time have largely involved areas restricted by the Vietnamese for security reasons.)

Fast forward to 2011, and Vietnam is becoming a tough sell these days in the recovery business, as JPAC struggles to meet the numbers imposed by the mandate in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), working with increased expectations, as well as budget woes, like their DoD counterparts. (JPAC expects a windfall in the FY2012 budget, which should help ease the pain.) Not only does the acidic soil in Vietnam eat up our loved ones’ remains, but the recovery process doesn’t come cheap. There are some on the Hill that would like to see more bang for the buck, which almost guarantees the gradual movement of resources to WW II locations, where recoveries may be more plentiful, working conditions less dangerous and public relations extremely favorable.

While no one is calling this the end game for our teams to participate in Vietnam recovery operations, the real threat in Vietnam–in my opinion–is time, which is running out because of the difficultly in finding and identifying remains in Vietnam’s harsh environment. Some families are saying that we need all the help we can get, and since the Vietnamese insist on containing all efforts, that alone may put them in an advantageous position.

SEE UPDATE ON THE FUTURE OF UNILATERAL EFFORTS AT www.bringingjerryhome.com/2012/04/qapersonal-opinion-april-2012/

 

2 Responses to “MIA Unilateral Recoveries”

  1. Ken & Dottie Dower says:

    Hi Elaiine – We are still tracking your reports. Very interesting. Keep them coming and hang-in-there. Ken

  2. Thanks, Ken & Dottie — I appreciate your interest and think of you often. I’m learning a lot, but it’s slow going on my part. As a Korean War vet, you know the enormous challenges that still exist there for our MIAs, but JPAC continues to pursue every avenue. Best, Elaine


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