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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 RECOVERIES: HOW MUCH IS A PROMISE WORTH?

Friday, March 1, 2013 @ 09:03 AM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

 

 The Vietnam Memorial Wall — most visited memorial in Washington, D.C.

For some people heavily engaged in social media where it seems everything is aired these days, the  doomsday prediction of sequestration is like theater – good actors, bad story. 

But for those of us with MIAs still unaccounted from past wars, such as the Vietnam War in my family’s case, sequestration could deal another blow to the recovery system which has suffered greatly throughout the decades for a variety of reasons, most notably the existence of different ideologies between the U.S. and other governments where the remains of our MIAs still exist.   

But these days, the culprit appears to be the unpredictability of our own government.  And while budget dilemmas have often been a problem with MIA operations, this time the cuts are running rampant throughout the entire military, which has ultimate responsibility for MIA recovery efforts.   Needless to say, sequestration must go!    It was a bad decision by U.S. leadership to even suggest the use of sequestration early-on, but now it is turning into a disaster,  hurting our military, core civil service employees and embarrassing our country on a global level.  

CHERRY PICKING

This blog is meant to be apolitical, but there are times when it is difficult to sit on the sidelines and see our country going in reverse – as in back to the 1960s when civil rights, women’s rights and the draft were justifiably in need of change, but our military took the brunt of those social battles and some see us headed in that direction again.   However, with today’s all-volunteer military, often serving multiple tours in high-threat war zones, it remains to be seen if the bravest among us will allow themselves to be used as pawns!  If ever there were a time to set an example that our active-duty military does count, it is now.   These are smart people who are watching closely at how we treat their retired and MIA counterparts, as well.

SEQUESTRATION — DANGEROUS POLITICS

While post-war drawdown is nothing new, the current situation [sequestration] seems downright dangerous.  Even more concerning is that many Americans nowadays are disengaged from the reality of war, including some of our elected officials.  With instability in the Middle East – not just Iraq and Afghanistan – along with areas in Asia Pacific flexing military muscle, it is difficult to talk about bringing home our loved ones from past wars when we’re having trouble spreading the wealth among those who are engaged in today’s military commitments.   

Yet, it is important to understand that the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) – the government organization that reports to the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) – plays an important role in our nation’s ongoing efforts to strengthen economic, political and security ties within Asia Pacific.  We need only look at recovery operations in Burma, which are underway, thanks in part to the success of humanitarian efforts in Vietnam.  But behind the scenes, our two countries are hoping this renewed relationship leads to a lot more.

KEEPING THE PROMISE

JPAC is tasked with the huge responsibility of finding and identifying MIAs from past wars, comprising what may be the largest, ongoing humanitarian effort ever conducted by the U.S.  With more than 80,000 MIAs still unaccounted for around the globe, it is believed that one-third of them may be recoverable and identified.  

However, sequestration has already begun to impact JPACs manpower and recovery operations, and if the situation does not improve soon, the outcome could be devastating to Vietnam War recoveries.  JPAC has taken some serious cuts to its budget but the worst is yet to come if furloughs are next — recovery/excavation operations will cease if they have to furlough civilians. 

According to current rules, JPAC would be required to arrange two furlough days every pay period (2 weeks), and since teams deploy for 35-45 days, they would not be able to deploy any anthropologists and operations would cease.  The clock is ticking in Vietnam War locations where acidic soil is rapidly degrading the remains of our loved ones; economic progress is moving faster than excavations; and Vietnamese witnesses to our wartime losses are dying off.   

What many people do not understand is that JPACs operations are largely military-to-military with support from a group of highly skilled civilian workers, most of whom are former military, as well.  Keeping boots on the ground in areas where our loved ones are still unaccounted for is an excellent way to support and solidify relationships that once seemed unthinkable. 

 

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