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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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JPACs FY2012 Budget Is Safe!

Friday, January 6, 2012 @ 03:01 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis


JPAC Commander Maj. Gen. Stephen Tom, USAR, greets Ann Mills-Griffiths during a somber POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony on Sept. 16, 2011, at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Mills-Griffiths, Chairman of the National League of POW/MIA Families, was Keynote Speaker for the event. (DoD photo by Spc. Michael Carter, U.S. Army/Released)

The Joint Prisoner of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC) – the group responsible for locating, identifying and repatriating — to the fullest possible extent — all MIAs from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Cold War, Gulf War and others, as mandated, is good to go for another year.  I checked the 2012 Nat’l Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), as it relates to JPAC, and here is a pertinent excerpt:

(Sec. 1099D) States that Congress: (1) reaffirms its support for the recovery and return to the United States of the remains and bodies of all members killed in the line of duty, and efforts by the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command to recover remains of members from all wars, conflicts and missions; (2) recognizes the courage and sacrifice of all members who participated in Operation Highjump and all missions vital to U.S. national security; (3) acknowledges the dedicated research and efforts by the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Science Foundation, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, the Fallen American Veterans Foundation, and other persons and organizations to identify, locate, and advocate for the recovery of the bodies of Ensign Maxwell Lopez, Naval Aviator, Frederick Williams, Aviation Machinist’s Mate 1st Class, and Wendell Hendersin, Aviation Radioman 1st Class of the “George 1” explosion and crash; and (4) encourages DOD to review the facts, research, and pursue new efforts to recover, identify, and return the bodies of the “George 1” crew from Antarctica’s Thurston Island.  (Please Google “Operation Highjump”  to learn more about George 1 – it is a fascinating story and reminder of our country’s commitment to bringing home our heroes.)

With JPACs 2012 financial concerns presumably settled, it is hard for me to determine if budget approval will benefit Vietnam War recoveries.  As the former wife of an F-4 Phantom pilot shot down in Vietnam and yet to have his remains repatriated to the USA, I am most interested in ensuring that work continues on behalf of our MIAs in Vietnam War locations.  Ironically, it was the 2010 NDAA that included a mandate for JPACs Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) to double its identifications of MIAs by 2015, which changed the recovery pecking order forever. (Click here for background on the recent changes to Vietnam War recovery efforts.)

The new norm in Vietnam is to place emphasis on Vietnam Recovery Teams (VRTs) with support from JPAC in areas of investigations and anthropology.  By reducing the number of our personnel, JPAC can focus more on WWII and Korean War recoveries, as directed by the DoD.    The majority of Vietnam War families with MIAs still unaccounted-for are supportive of VRTs, and we hope the new system works.

On a personal note, I want to thank Maj Gen Stephen Tom, USAR, who has guided JPAC through the last two tumultuous years in his role as Commander of the organization, based at Hickam AFB in Honolulu.  Although I have only met Maj Gen Tom a couple of times, I have been impressed by his determination to stay strong on budget issues, and the end result is that JPACs new CIL facility is under construction and the 2012 budget is intact – both crucial to the success of ongoing operations.  Congratulation also go to Maj Gen Tom’s leadership team — this is great news for everyone.

Looking ahead, I agree with Maj Gen Tom that technology will augment recovery efforts.  I recently read an article in “Follow Me,” published quarterly by the Second Marine Division Assoc. (Oct-Nov-Dec 2011), in which Maj Gen Tom said that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was working on a classified project to assist in finding Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and, when fielded, this technology should benefit JPAC substantially.  Anyone who served in combat knows that IEDs remain hazardous long after a war ends.

Under Maj Gen Tom’s watch, JPAC also recognized the need to continue learning about new ways of conducting business – namely, investigations.  I recall hearing Maj Gen Tom express interest in having JPAC investigators take a second look at a number of cases that had been dormant but might benefit from new leads and/or technology.  Perhaps, that is what prompted JPAC investigators to contact the  FBI to discuss investigative techniques – kudos to both sides.   I don’t know when Maj Gen Tom’s tour with JPAC will end, but as I’ve said in the past, “he was the right man at the right time!”

One final note:  While technology is great, you can’t deny that man’s best friend is still a good bet – even if he doesn’t work in Vietnam.  If you haven’t heard of Buster, just Google “Buster, the cadaver dog” – another amazing story that you shouldn’t miss.  Maybe Buster would like to visit a mountain retreat in the Que Sons?

 

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