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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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MIA Primer – Five Lessons Learned

Friday, February 18, 2011 @ 07:02 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

Craig's initial attempts at negotiating with the police were at the village level in this building, later ending--to no avail--at the regional police hq in Tam Ky. Although disappointed at not being able to visit his dad's crash site, Craig learned a valuable lesson in the art of negotiating -- different cultures frequently don't think alike.


Lesson #1: Vietnam’s Turf: The Vietnamese government is especially cognizant of the official leader-to-leader format for negotiating all matters relating to MIA recovery efforts. This is one of the reasons why private groups are not sanctioned to conduct recoveries. Such a format allows the Vietnamese to tap into opportunities with the US Government on a long-term basis.

Lesson #2: Money Talks: Vietnam is still a poor country by our standards. And as most know, we did not pay reparations upon our departure in 1975. Instead we chose to help rebuild the country and invest in its future (the USA was the country’s largest investor in ’09). Everything we do in Vietnam comes with a price tag, including recovery efforts. At the beginning, the Vietnamese were doing recoveries on a gratis basis, presumably hoping to land the bigger fish—namely, trade relations, etc. But when it became known that we were paying for recoveries in Laos, the Vietnamese decided they could use some assistance, as well. Revenue is revenue!

Lesson #3: Different Politics: When Jerry’s and my son, Craig, visited Vietnam with Ron and his brother, Brett, in 2009, he was shocked to learn that his dream of visiting his dad’s crash site would not be realized after months of planning. The guys were prevented from hiking to the site by regional officials in Tam Ky. Craig spent four hours negotiating with officials to no avail, giving him a firsthand glimpse of communism in action. JPAC understands the system, but many of us are still learning.

Lesson #4: Time Heals: A lot of returning vets are concerned about meeting the former enemy again,face-to-face, but I have yet to meet a Marine or soldier who hasn’t considered their visit to be cathartic. Since I was not directly involved with the war effort, my visits have focused on learning about the process of recovering Jerry’s remains. I am very comfortable in Vietnam and have only experienced one discriminatory situation when a young salesgirl in Hanoi refused to sell me anything in her store. At first I thought it was a communication gap, but it soon became apparent that I was still the enemy. I understood and went on my way.

Lesson #5: Loyal League: Compared to a lot of families who have stayed connected to the Vietnam MIA issue for years, I am a neophyte, trying to make up for lost time. That’s not to say that I haven’t experienced all the heartbreak associated with losing Jerry, but thanks to groups like the National League of Families, led by Executive Director Ann Mills Griffiths, I have benefitted from the League’s fight to bring home our POWs/MIAs. I know of no other private group that has done more to promote our cause since the late 1960s, early 1970s. If you’re interested in the Vietnam MIA issue, please visit www.pow-miafamilies.org .

2 Responses to “MIA Primer – Five Lessons Learned”

  1. Jack Wells says:

    Bill Bell’s book, Leave No Man Behind is a real eye-opener about how the communist government used the POW/MIA issue to bring greatly needed revenue into Vietnam.

    On lesson #4, Probably thousands of civilians in the north were killed inadvertently during U.S. bombing raids. Without knowing the story about the hate/resentment behind the young woman’s attitude, there are many people who have never resolved their bitterness.

    In 2005 a Marine friend and I visted the Army Museum in Hanoi. On this particular morning a group of the communist version of “Gold Star” mothers had finished meeting at the Museum. This particular group were “Super Gold Star Mothers” who to be in the group had to have lost 4 or more family members during the war. The mothers were in single file as they passed us. I will never forget that one mother left the group and walked up to me, silently grasped my hand, and then returned to the group. Forgiveness is difficult on both sides, but this particular woman had managed to achieve it.

  2. I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to have a mother approach you and offer a gesture of forgiveness, after having lost four of her children in the war. What an extraordinarily touching story. Thank you for sharing it, my friend.


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