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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.

MARINE F-4 PHANTOM FORAY: 1-4 NOVEMBER 2012

Saturday, October 6, 2012 @ 09:10 AM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

 

 

 

 

 

POST-FORAY STORY:  www.bringingjerryhome.com/2013/02/marine-f4-phantom-foray-dj-vu/

The Marine F-4 Phantom Foray is coming to San Diego, CA, 1-4 November 2012, and the number of attendees is building as word gets out among veterans who flew this tremendously beloved supersonic jet.  The Marines of VMFA-314 (Black Knights) received the Corps’ first F-4Bs in June 1962, at MCAS El Toro, which was adjacent to Mission Viejo and sadly now closed.

But the event will be held at the Town & Country Hotel, conveniently located off Interstate 8 in Mission Valley, a short distance from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD), about 15-20 minutes from MCAS Miramar  in the northern portion of the city and 30-40 minutes from Camp Pendleton in North County.  The Marines rule in this part of the country, so East and West Coast Marine F-4 pilots and crew will be right at home in San Diego.

Reunions are infamous for reviving – often in a spectacular way — events of historical or meaningful significance, even though the redundancy may last just a few days.  For hundreds of Marine jet pilots, the upcoming F-4 Foray is expected to place a bunch of jet jocks back in the seat – metaphorically speaking –of the aircraft that was as tough to earn the right to fly as it was to perform life or death missions in the Vietnam War and elsewhere.   If it is true that the last fighter pilot has already been born, then the Marines attending this reunion should feel proud that as former F-4  pilots and RIOs, they  are part of another very special brotherhood.

REUNION HIGHLIGHTS

The F-4 Foray will draw hundreds of former Marine pilots, RIOs, crew chiefs, mechanics, reps, families and special guests, most of whom were involved with F-4s over the years.  There will be Ready Rooms spread throughout the hotel for maximum hospitality and several outside tours to Marine-related locations.  (Visit www.afr-reg.com/F4Foray for more information).  The highlight of the three-day event is expected to be the Saturday night banquet dinner in the hotel when Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos speaks to his Marines, as in “once a Marine, always a Marine.”  The Commandant flew F-4s early-on in his career and is the first pilot in history to serve in his current position as Commandant.  Well liked by all who know him and respected by those who only know of him – yours truly included, the Saturday evening dinner is certain to be a big deal.

Also speaking at the banquet will be special guest John Capellupo, past President of McDonnell Aircraft, builder of 5,057 F-4 Phantom IIs, for the Navy, Air Force and Marines. Production of F-4s ended in the United States in 1979, moving to Japan’s Mitsubishi, which built 138 Phantoms with the last one off the assembly line in 1981.  Although no longer in production, the Phantom is still used in several countries worldwide, and nowadays the U.S. military uses it as a target drone.  Also, according to organizers of the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the Vietnam War, the Marine Corps had more F4 Phantom squadrons – 25 to be exact – in service throughout the world during the Vietnam War than any other single type aircraft squadron before or since Vietnam – a stunning number, since Marine Corps aviation just marked its 100th Anniversary this year.   Another interesting hallmark is that the F4 was the only demonstration aircraft used concurrently by both the Navy/Marine Blue Angels (1969-74) and the Air Force Thunderbirds.

LIFE AS AN F-4 PHANTOM WIFE — BRIEFLY

The F-4 will always have a special place in my heart, since my first husband, Capt Jerry Zimmer, worked harder than words can explain to get selected to fly F-4s and was killed flying one in Vietnam.  So competitive was the Marine Corps flight school program that the number of slots for jets – never mind F-4s – in each graduating class during Jerry’s era (’67-’68) was sometimes non-existent or limited to one or two slots — timing truly was a big deal.   A number of Marines transitioning from helicopters, infantry or another MOS, went through an Air Force exchange program and some had an opportunity to get into F-4s through that channel — it is my understanding that the Air Force had more F-4s than the Navy or the Marine Corps.  My friend, retired Marine Col Jack Gagen, went through the Marine flight program but served his first Vietnam tour with the Air Force in F-4s and his second  with the Marines in VMFA-542, later going on to command F-4 squadrons at MCAS El Toro and MCAS Yuma, AZ.

While in Pensacola where the flight program began for Navy and Marine pilots, Jerry’s and my tiny house on Navy Point was where a group of guys studied the night before exams.  Aside from Jerry, the group included Mike Wholley, John French, Charlie Pigott and a couple of other guys who were passionate about flying and hopefully getting jets.  The guys were all married and had attended  Ivy League schools during college on NROTC scholarships, so they knew each other from summer cruises and Basic School.  I was pregnant during our first stay in Pensacola and used to hear them prepping for the tests.  I am certain those study sessions made a difference, and right after Jerry’s death, one of the guys sent me a letter, saying that he never would have made it through flight school without Jerry’s help.  Interestingly, a few years ago, I received an email from him, saying the same thing, nearly word-for-word, as the letter sent four decades earlier.   I was deeply moved back then and now.

MAJOR IN-HOUSE COMPETITION

The competition for jets versus helicopters created a subculture of separation between jet and helicopter pilots, each hanging with their own.  That is the way it was back then.  Naturally the two sides  did not hate each other, especially when it came to getting the job done for the guys on the ground.  In the end, it made no difference whether it was jets or helicopters, all pilots were considered cocky in those days.  I think the bar was so high for Marine pilots that pride was sometimes confused with cockiness.  In Jerry’s case, I know he worked harder during flight school than during his four years at Brown University and time in Basic School (TBS 1-67) put together — not to forget that he took advantage of a relatively new program that allowed NROTC students to get their private pilot’s license while in college.  My first flight ever was with Jerry in a Cessna 150 right after he got his  license.

I was ecstatic to be with Jerry every step of the way and learned so much during our lives together, as a young student, wife and mother, with little to no exposure to life at the beginning, beyond a college campus.

The wives understood the pressure that the guys were under during flight school, and the ante was raised after they ended up in the jet training program that lasted 18 months, with three months at six  different bases, before the guys learned which aircraft they would fly in combat.  So serious was the program that when I was ready to deliver our baby, Jerry dropped me off at the hospital in Meridian, MS, before heading off to fly.  When he returned later in the day, our son, Craig, was waiting for him.  After delivering in a Catholic hospital, going through several hours of labor with five nuns in white habits hovering over me, it was quite an experience, leading me to make different plans for my second child.

“D” DAY ARRIVES

It wasn’t until the program was at the final stages, as I recall, that the guys learned their fate —  F-4s, A-4s or A-6s.  I don’t think there were many Marine A-6 pilots, so the competition was generally for F-4s or A-4s, and career Marine pilots probably ended up in both over time.  Everyone in Jerry’s former study group got F-4s, and we eventually met again at MCAS Cherry Point, N.C. , and finally at MCAS Beaufort, S.C., where Jerry was attached to VMFA – 251, home of the Thunderbolts.  This was his final stateside squadron before deploying to Vietnam and joining VMFA-542 in Da Nang.  He had been in country for six months when shot down and declared KIA/NBR.

Unlike today, the squadrons in those years did not deploy as a unit, but rather the pilots and RIOs went when they received orders — usually to the war zone at that time, but often with preliminary stops at special schools.  Today’s squadron deployment setup is much better for pilots and families, giving each a comfortable support system during those long separations with few other changes to impede kids in school and working wives – or stay-at-home husbands, which could be the case these days.

Although I think the changes instituted by the military over the years have been hugely positive, I am certain that the OJT I received as a young wife of a fighter pilot also gave me wings to fly on my own when I needed them most.  On the tougher side, I found that marrying a helicopter pilot was truly a major transition that perhaps few pilots would understand nowadays.  I knew nothing about helicopters and felt defensive when jokes were made in social settings about jet pilots– I was young and trying to recover from losing Jerry more than most people ever knew.  Ron, who flew Huey Gunships in Vietnam, had patience, and we worked through the rough spots over time.

For those attending the Marine F-4 Foray, I hope you enjoy the reunion and San Diego’s hospitality.  I know it will be a great event.  Sadly, I will be out of town but thinking about everyone and hating to miss seeing old and new friends and hearing some incredible war stories.

If you are interested in our efforts to repatriate Jerry’s remains and those of his RIO, 1st Lt Al Graf, please visit this site for possible updates.  We may be close to the end of our mission, and your prayers and positive energy will be appreciated.

2 Responses to “MARINE F-4 PHANTOM FORAY: 1-4 NOVEMBER 2012”

  1. Rich Nauman says:

    Hi Elaine,

    I just found this website. I didn’t know Jerry, but I am sorry for his loss. I was in VMFA-314 in Vietnam from November 1966 through December 1967 (including three months in Iwakuni, Japan). I was an airframes mechanic. I couldn’t be an aviator because of a color vision defect. I hope to meet you at the Foray.
    Currently, it is my honor to serve our military heroes at the local veterans’ hospital here in Tampa, Florida.

    Rich Nauman

  2. Thanks, Rich, for checking in — great to hear from an F4 friend, especially one who is working with our veterans in Tampa. Please give them my best!!! Have a great time at the reunion and I’d love an update when you return. Warm Regards, Elaine


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