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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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Vietnam Recoveries: JPAC Dodges a Bullet–Hopefully!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 @ 06:05 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

Mr Bay & Mr Do (in T shirt) being interviewed by JPAC investigator at crash site Following up on evidence presented by our family in which we asked that Jerry’s and Al’s case be reopened, JPAC conducted a full-scale investigation in August 2009. They sent a team of investigators/linguists to interview Mr. Du and Mr. Bay, the primary in-country sources, to determine if the area involved a crash site and whether it was viable for excavation, both of which were affirmative. Furthermore, investigators concurred with our findings that Jerry and Al had crashed at that location.

Budget battles are far from over, considering where things currently stand with FY2011; however, looking ahead to the FY2012 budget, JPAC seems to have dodged a bullet and will remain in control of recovery operations of all MIAs from past wars, dating back to WWII. Of concern to families—including ours — and many powerful veterans organizations was that the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) would exceed its current policy-making role by adding an operational capability to its war chest. Had revamping DPMOs organization been approved, the consensus was that Vietnam War recoveries would have suffered a crushing blow, adding more concern to families with MIAs from the Vietnam War who feel that recoveries already are hanging in the balance. (Please read my previous blog on unilateral recoveries).

Thanks to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who will be retiring soon, DPMOs plan was not adopted. Instead, the Defense Department’s proposed budget for FY2012 for the next five years included a $321.1 million increase in funding and a plus-up of 253 additional personnel for JPAC, according to Ann Mills Griffiths, Executive Director of The National League of Families. Mills-Griffiths also confirmed that JPAC is expected to remain under the U. S. Pacific Command (USPACOM).

At issue was a plan proposed by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Bob Newberry, who heads DPMO, to create an adjunct operation, focusing primarily on WWII recoveries in Europe. In addition, DPMO proposed a plan to create another lab to analyze and identify their WWII recoveries. If Gates had approved DPMOs plan, I am confident that an operation of this type would have become an astronomical drain on the budget and essentially caused a competitive atmosphere between the two groups. In the end, the losers would have been families of MIAs, who already have endured decades of glitches in the system.

When I spoke with DASD Newberry a few months ago, he indicated that some officials were questioning whether Vietnam War recoveries produced enough bang for the buck. Bob indicated that he was not among those who felt that way. Yet, DPMO inspired the mandate requiring JPACs Central Identification Lab to double the number of identifications by 2015. When the mandate went into effect, it essentially left Vietnam War recoveries in a state of flux, which is where they stand now. Although JPAC continues to conduct recovery operations in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia on a reduced level, the proposed budget is crucial to structuring ongoing future efforts in those areas and elsewhere in the world.

Consequently, it is important that families with MIAs from the Vietnam War attend the League’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., July 21-24. This is our chance to ask questions about the future of recovery efforts in Southeast Asia. As customary, the meeting will be attended by leaders from political and military circles, along with DPMO and JPAC.

If you know of a family with an MIA from the Vietnam War, who might not be aware of the League meeting, please ask them to contact the League office at (703) 465-7432, or visit www.pow-miafamilies.org for additional information. This is an important meeting, and the League is asking everyone to attend.

One Response to “Vietnam Recoveries: JPAC Dodges a Bullet–Hopefully!”

  1. Mike West says:

    Hi Elaine:

    We had the pleasure of hearing from General Conant at our TBS 4-67 Reunion in San Diego a year and a half ago, A very impressive Marine!

    Also impressive is the fact that thel three keynote speakers at our reunion, Brig. General Bailey, Major Generals Mills and Conant, all added another star after being vetted by TBS 4-67!


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