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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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MIA IN VIETNAM: KEEPING JPAC IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

Friday, March 2, 2012 @ 11:03 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

 PART I

JPAC team members are meeting in late March at the group’s headquarters in Hawaii to continue discussing ways in which they can maintain a presence in Southeast Asia, but focus more on WWII and Korean War recoveries. The buzz: “Everything is on the table.” This major change was prompted by the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which contained a mandate that JPACs Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) double its annual identifications by 2015. Vietnam War operations have never been noted for producing a watershed of recoveries; consequently this has been one of the factors affecting the rather low number of identifications over the years.

Since 1976, JPAC has worked concurrently in WWII and Korean War locations, and at some point it became apparent that the identifications in those areas were rapidly catching up with the ones in Southeast Asia, where a more concentrated effort was taking place. Plus, pressure was building from WWII MIA families to speed up recovery efforts of their missing loved ones. Sadly, Korean War MIA families were at the mercy of Kim Il Song and later his offspring, not JPAC – hopefully things are about to change, but it’s still a long shot.

With the 2010 NDAA in place, the DoD continued to revise and build the WWII database to speed up operations in Europe and the Pacific Theater; however, the DoD did not adequately prepare families of MIAs from the Vietnam War for what lie ahead. But today most of us know that the only way the CIL can comply with the new law is for JPAC to reduce its footprint in Southeast Asia and move on to more productive areas where remains apparently are easier to find and ultimately to identify, and that is what they are doing.

The big issue now is how to redistribute the “wealth” to create a balance within the MIA global recovery community, i.e., effectively giving more focus and finances to past wartime areas, other than Southeast Asia. In my heart, I want all MIAs to come home, but not at the expense of our MIAs still unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War. My first husband is still missing in South Vietnam, so I am a member of the Vietnam War MIA community and my allegiance will always be with these families, even though I do not know many of them. Our experiences as MIA wives, mothers, fathers, sisters, etc, were vastly different from those families who lost loved ones in WWII, where all deaths were appropriately honored and still are today — even in other parts of the world. I was raised in post WWII and remember the adoration that America had for our men in uniform. But later I would learn that the Vietnam War would be a different story with a very different ending, both on the battlefield and the home front.

I do understand and accept that the system will change, but my hope is that JPAC can come up with a balancing act that will allow them to maintain a presence in Southeast Asia.

If it weren’t for the National League of POW/MIA Families and a small core of civil service employees at JPAC headquarters and in the Detachments, the recovery system might not be around today. When the U.S. pulled out of the Vietnam War, some of these  people were still in the military and remained in country, conducting search, rescue and recovery efforts in a very hostile environment. JPAC has made its share of mistakes, and Jerry’s case was one of them, but I never blamed them, because I understood the challenges and appreciated their willingness to review our findings and reopen Jerry’s case.  I am concerned about how to keep JPAC teams and leadership in Southeast Asia, not how to get rid of them. In good times, this would be a compliment, but nowadays it’s probably a burden.

IN PART II, I WILL DISCUSS SOME OF THE OPERATIONAL CHALLENGES THAT MAY NEED TO BE RESOLVED AS JPAC EXPLORES WAYS OF REDUCING BUT CONTINUING OPERATIONS IN SOUTHEAST ASIA. I’ll LOOK AT VRTs, DETACHMENTS, LAOS AND MORE.

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