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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.

UNDERWATER MIA RECOVERIES – A BIG DEAL!

Saturday, October 1, 2011 @ 06:10 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

The USNS Bowditch  team off the coast of Vietnam in 2011, supporting JPAC and its Vietnamese counterpart in the search for Vietnam War MIAs lost  over water. (JPAC photo by DOD civilian Ron Ward/Released).


What began as a nail-biter for families of MIAs still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War is fast becoming a year of celebrations, ranging from JPACs FY2012 budget approval, needed to keep recovery operations afloat in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, to its new Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, now under construction, that should help streamline and speed up the process of identifying remains from all past wartime locations. Everyone’s blood pressure is back to normal, at least for now.

And although media attention has subsided, the biggest reason for celebration among many families with water-related losses in Vietnam was the discovery of what may have been an F4 Phantom crash site, among several site surveys conducted in waters off North Vietnam. After four decades, the U. S. Government and Vietnamese government engaged in a new spirit of cooperation, producing phenomenal results, conducting underwater surveys, aboard U.S. Navy ships.

Even though the war ended in the mid 1970s, this military-to-military effort is the first to offer renewed hope to nearly 500 families, who lost loved ones in overwater crashes during the Vietnam War. We’ve come a long way!

Ron Ward, JPACs Casualty Resolution Specialist in Hanoi, said: “Though the status of the military-to-military relationship is not within JPACs responsibility, the oceanographic survey missions are a small part of the overall bilateral military situation, which can help expand accounting in an indirect way.”

SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM (May 27, 2011) - A Vietnamese Naval Officer, left, learns about the USNS Bowditch from the ship's Captain and another crew member during an ongoing investigation off the coast of Vietnam. The USNS Bowditch is a Pathfinder Class oceanographic research ship which uses specialized sonar to survey the ocean's floor, searching for U.S. aircraft lost during the Vietnam War. (JPAC photo by DOD civilian Ron Ward/Released)

Of no small consequence was the realization that the site/discovery – presumably of an F4, two crewmember jet, is believed to be associated with Navy Lt. Cmdr. James Mills, a Radar Intercept Officer (RIO), stationed aboard the USS Coral for his 13 month, in-country tour. Lt. Cmdr. Mills’ aircraft went missing after a mission in North Vietnam on September 21, 1966, and both he and the pilot, Capt. James Bauder, were subsequently declared MIA.

Lt. Cmdr. Mills was the brother of Ann Mills Griffiths, the long-time Executive Director of the Nat’l League of POW/MIA Families and now the League’s Chairman of the Board. Griffiths made a brief announcement at the League’s annual meeting in July 2011 that her brother’s site had been found. It was a very touching moment, knowing that Griffiths and her entire family have been devoted to the League for decades.

In general, specific cases are not discussed at the League’s annual meeting, but this was a special event for Griffiths, who had just relinquished her long-time role as Executive Director to focus on strategic issues as the League’s Chairman and to write a book with Richard Childress, Senior League Policy Advisor. Also, JPACs protocol generally precludes the release of specific information because of privacy issues linked to ongoing investigations. However, many attendees knew that JPAC had been working with the U.S. Navy Oceanographic Office (NAVOCEANO) and the VNOSMP, surveying several sites in 2009 aboard the U.S. Navy’s USNS Bruce C. Heezen (first time ever for the Vietnamese to partner with the U.S. on this type of operation in their waters) and then again in May/June 20011 aboard the USNS Bowditch.

Both ships are noncombatant and designated as Navy Survey Ships (AGS) within the Military Sealift Command (MSC). The two survey ships are operated and navigated by 24 merchant mariners under contract to the Navy. Each ship is equipped with state-of-the-art technology, and the recent Bowditch mission included a team of specialists with expertise in oceanography, hydrography and bathymetry, acoustics and geophysics. Definitely a big deal.

Since most Vietnam War investigations and excavations have been conducted on land, few people understand the difficulty of finding unaccounted for Marines, sailors, airmen and soldiers lost at sea. Witness accounts often have been unreliable in overwater aircraft losses, because landmarks may have been unavailable and a myriad of conditions – currents, weather, water depth, speed of aircraft, etc – may have altered the final resting place of the aircraft.

What has taken the U.S. so long? Many people do not realize that U.S. Military ships cannot simply enter Vietnamese waters and begin conducting underwater surveys, any more than JPAC can roam around the country excavating MIA sites without the consent of the Vietnamese government. In reference to military ships, the U.S. must first abide by Vietnam’s Maritime Code and International Treaties, before entering the country’s territorial waters. Conducting underwater surveys is a completely separate issue.

Thanks to strides made by DPMO, JPAC and other groups within the U.S. Government, the Vietnamese have increasingly welcomed our presence in their country, and now they have taken a huge step forward, allowing the USNS Heezen and Bowditch to search for our missing loved ones in their waters. If all goes well, the U.S. and Vietnamese governments will embark on the next underwater mission in 2013.

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