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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.

The Marine Corps Family — A Generational Tradition

Thursday, September 1, 2011 @ 12:09 AM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

Pictured is Elaine Zimmer Davis and Maj Gen Drew O’Donnell, aboard the Davises boat.  Elaine and husband, Ron — a Marine veteran helicopter pilot, hosted Drew and his family for an afternoon of cruising on San Diego Bay.

Drew recently took command of the Third Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.  He is one of the many Marines who embodies the generational spirit within the Corps.

The joke among Marines in the early years was that if the Marine Corps wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one.  Not to minimize difficult times and uncertainty that all military families face, the notion of generational careers within Marine Corps  families remains strong and wives traditionally have played an important role.

It is not uncommon to find second and third generation Marines spread throughout the world.  Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting such a Marine – Maj Gen Andrew O’Donnell, Jr., who will soon take command of the Third Marine Aircraft Wing, at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, CA.

The Change of Command ceremony for O’Donnell is slated in late September, with Maj Gen Thomas Conant, current commander of the 3D Marine Aircraft Wing, heading for Hawaii to serve as Deputy Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM).  Conant will pin on his third star and become the first Marine ever to serve as second in command of USPACOM.

My husband, Ron, met O’Donnell, who is known in the Marine Corps community as “Jr.” but introduced as “Drew,” a couple of years ago at a Quiet Birdman (QB) meeting at the San Diego hangar.  For those who are not familiar with the QBs, it is an organization that has been around since 1921 and known for attracting a diverse membership of high time aviators, including the likes of Red Baron and Charles Lindbergh.

The QBs have several chapters throughout the U.S., called hangars, where members meet monthly at a restaurant for the sole purpose of sharing stories about flying. Typically the QBs invite noted pilots to share their experiences, too.  Addressing an audience of savvy pilots, a guest speaker traditionally has topnotch flying credentials.  A helicopter pilot, named Marine Corps Aviator of the Year in 2000, Drew did not disappoint the QB crew when he spoke of today’s Marine Corps flight program.  

Shortly after the QB meeting, Drew deployed to Afghanistan, and Ron stayed in touch with him by email during his yearlong tour.  Upon Drew’s recent return, Ron and I invited the O’Donnell family for an afternoon of boating on San Diego Bay.  It was a perfect day, and we couldn’t have asked for a nicer family to join us.

Drew is the son of Lt Gen Andrew “Andy” O’Donnell, Sr. – a highly regarded fighter pilot and leader of Marines, whose passing in recent years was considered a huge loss to a band of warriors.  “I loved the guy,” said Col Jack Gagen, a retired Marine and long-time fighter pilot, who logged about 3,000 hrs in F4s during his career.  Jack credits the “Big O” – as the elder O’Donnell was called — for selecting him to command two fighter squadrons.  “He was the one who gave me an F4 squadron at El Toro and later sent me to Yuma and gave me another one,” said Jack.

Col Jack Gagen, USMC (Ret) August, 2011

Col Jack Gagen, USMC (Ret) Photo:  August 2011.

Jack said that many other retired Marine Corps pilots, including Lt Gen John Hudson and Maj Gen Mike Sullivan, were fans of the Big O.  “We all thought he was a tremendous guy,” said Jack, listing some of Andy O’Donnell’s accomplishments over the years, of which included two tours in Vietnam, as well as Command of the Third Marine Aircraft Wing.  “I am so happy Andy’s son is doing well,” said Jack, recognizing that his good friend had been an excellent role model for a son, who was now following in his father’s footsteps, like so many other generations of proud Marine Corps families.

Jack Gagen was a Marine Major in 1969, serving his second tour in Vietnam with VMFA-542, which was the F4 squadron of my first husband, Capt Jerry Zimmer.   On Aug 29, 1969, Jack flew as Jerry’s wingman, since it was his first flight back in country.  Sadly, that mission turned out to be Jerry’s fatal flight.  I never knew the name or whereabouts of Jerry’s wingman until Ron, a former helicopter pilot in the Marine Corps, began conducting his own investigation of Jerry’s crash a few years ago.  Ron tracked down Jack and found that he and his wife had retired a short distance from where we lived in San Diego.  Since then, Jack and I have become good friends, meeting for lunch every three or four months at Ruby’s Restaurant in Carlsbad.  Jack is a great guy and recognized as having been an incredible fighter pilot like his friend, Lt Gen Andy O’Donnell.

4 Responses to “The Marine Corps Family — A Generational Tradition”

  1. Joe Boone says:

    I had the unique opportunity to serve with LTGEN O’Donnell at FMFPAC Hawaii in the late 70’s, while he was the FMFPAC Commanding General. He was the ultimate professional, and I grew to respect him a great deal. If his son is anything like him, the Marine Corps has themselves a real winner also.

  2. Joe,
    I’ll pass along your kind words to Maj Gen O’Donnell — Drew is an outstanding Marine and an all-around great guy.

  3. Douglas C. Novak says:

    I was from June 1975 to Sept.1976 the Commanding Generals Driver of the 3rd MAW, MCAS, El Toro, Ca. I was then Major General Andrew O’Donnell’s driver and have great memories of those days. It was an Honor to be General Andrew O’Donnell’s driver back in the 70’s when I served there in the Marine Corps. I will always remember his great family and the Christmas dinner that my wonderful wife Cheryl of 43 years and I spent with the General and his family back in 1975. I still have the photo of the General pinning my Sergeant stripes on when the General promoted me to Sergeant. I know General Andrew O’Donnell would be very proud of his son General Andrew O’Donnell Jr. I Salute both Generals, Semper Fi!

    God Bless the O’Donnell Family.

    Respectfully,

    Sgt. Douglas C. Novak USMC(Ret)

  4. Doug,

    Thanks for sharing your story about serving as Maj Gen Andrew O’Donnell’s driver in the mid ’70s at MCAS El Toro, home of the 3rd MAW back in the day. A very touching reminder of how certain people pass through our lives but never leave. It seems that Drew’s dad was one of those. Interestingly, I feel somewhat similar about Drew — must be in the family genes. I will give Drew a heads up about your comment — I am told his dad was a huge role model in the eyes of many Marines, and I agree that he would be proud of his son. Happy New Year.


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