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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 MIA Recoveries: Not Over ‘Til It’s Over!

Saturday, August 6, 2011 @ 06:08 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

L-R: Rob Richeson, Director, Intelligence Directorate, JPAC; MG Stephen Tom, USAR, JPAC Commander; Ron Ward, Casualty Resolution Specialist, Detachment 2, Hanoi. MORE LEAGUE MEETING PHOTOS IN THE GALLERY — I APOLOGIZE FOR THE POOR QUALITY — PILOT ERROR!

When Ron Ward addressed approximately 300 families, along with leaders in military and government positions at last month’s 42nd Annual Meeting of the National League of Families of POW/MIAs in D.C., everyone gave him their undivided attention. Ron is the Casualty Resolution Specialist at Detachment 2 in Hanoi for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), which oversees recoveries of all unaccounted-for Marines and soldiers from past wars, beginning with WWII.

Those of us with MIAs in Vietnam are fortunate to have Ron — he has been in Vietnam for almost two decades and is as dedicated as they come. In fact, Ann Mills Griffiths, the long-time Executive Director of the League who recently stepped aside to serve as chairman of the League’s board, referred to Ron as a “treasure.” (Although Ann did not elaborate, many of us knew that Ron’s efforts were instrumental in helping to locate the crash site of Ann’s brother, CDR James Mills, USNR, shot down in 1966 in waters off North Vietnam).

This annual meeting is made up of devoted families with very long attention spans – read four decades, and they are hard-core advocates for the cause of bringing home loved ones left behind in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. (See: POW/MIA Family League Scores a Victory).  While we cherish our military and PACOMs leadership – in particular, I am grateful to LTC Todd Emoto, USA, former Commander of Det 2 in Hanoi who received an award from the League this year for his efforts. Also helpful was his Deputy Commander Major Ed Nevgloski, USMC — both believed in my first husband’s case, but I can also understand that stability in the detachments comes from a core group of civilians like Ron whose expertise is crucial to our ongoing MIA efforts.

This methodology begins at JPAC headquarters in Hawaii with a leadership core consisting of Johnie Webb, Deputy to the Commander, Dr. Thomas Holland, Senior Scientist at the Central Identification Laboratory (CIL), and other key civil service employees. They know of our cases, and we put our trust in them – indeed, a very large burden. Welcome to a club that none of the families ever wanted to join!

The buzz during the League meeting was that JPACs FY2012 budget was likely to survive last minute cuts, since its Commander, MG Stephen Tom, USAR, had submitted a barebones-package, as in the minimum needed to sustain across-the-board operations/growth, and it looked like he came out on top. Therefore, we were eager to know more about JPACs plan in Vietnam, hoping that it would include solutions to dealing with the mandate in the 2010 Defense Authorization Act that had left Vietnam War recoveries in a disadvantageous position. JPAC began looking toward WWII recoveries as a way to comply with the mandate that required the CIL to increase its identifications to 200 annually. Making an identification is the only way in which an MIA is considered recovered and case closed.

Sadly, Vietnam War recoveries have always been among the toughest and least productive of all past war-time locations, largely because of the acidic soil that degrades remains at a rapid rate. Throughout the meeting, several speakers admitted that nature was destroying our loved one’s remains and time was not on our side in Vietnam. Often we heard it from people on the Hill, many of whom I hadn’t thought were listening to our pleas — knowing they understood was a watershed moment for me!

As someone who has been ardently opposed to the mandate from the beginning, I actually left the meeting thinking that the mandate may have worked in JPACs favor, considering the state of our economy. Deputy Asst. Secretary of Defense (DASD) Bob Newberry, who heads the Defense POW/Missing Personel Office (DPMO) – the organization that determines policy for JPAC and initiated the mandate, pointed out that JPACs budget wasn’t going to be cut, since the organization was growing, not downsizing. If correct, operations in Vietnam War locations are expected to increase, not decrease, as many of us had feared.

NEXT…. FUTURE DIRECTION IN VIETNAM WAR RECOVERIES. Stony Beach; Russian Archives; Who Does What, Military to Military, Vietnam friendship and more.

One Response to “Vietnam MIA Recoveries: Not Over ‘Til It’s Over!”

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