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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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JPAC ON THE HOTSEAT

Friday, July 19, 2013 @ 09:07 AM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

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This photo was taken at my husband’s Phase II excavation in Vietnam

My support of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) and other organizations in the accounting community is well known and has not changed.  The job of finding remains, leading to identifications of our MIAs left behind in places like Tarawa, Laos, Burma and many more like them, is unbelievably difficult but an unforgettable reward when it happens.

The fact that somebody gives a damn about our loved ones means the world to me and other MIA families.  JPAC and its predecessors have been doing the job for more than 30 years – yet, few people until recently knew of its existence and most do not realize what it takes to find just one of our heroes — never mind thousands, missing for nearly a half century or longer.  Please understand that the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

I have not read the report by Paul Cole, a temporary employee of JPAC, which is located at Hickam AFB in Honolulu, Hawaii, and reports to the US Pacific Command.  The Cole report was an internal document and never meant to be made public, because the former Commander of JPAC, who contracted for the report, felt that Cole had exceeded the scope of his assignment that reportedly became personal instead of strategic.  If you follow MIA recovery issues, then you’ve probably read the media coverage that began with an AP story that was picked up on the wire by several major news outlets.

Dreaded Mandate!

Many families with MIAs still unaccounted-for recognize that the entire accounting community – not just JPAC – has been under a great deal of stress over the past three years, trying to deal with growing pains – an understatement — imposed by a Congressional mandate directed at JPACs Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  This mandate has affected every aspect of our government’s pledge to recover the remains of servicemen classified as MIAs from WWII, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War and others, as deemed necessary.

In 2009 the DoD decided to focus on WWII recoveries and to reduce efforts in Vietnam War locations.  The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), which reports indirectly to the Secretary of Defense, ordered a 2009 feasibility study, aimed at JPACs CIL, which determines MIA identifications in order to officially close cases.  From this study came the 2010 mandate, stipulating that the lab needed to double its current numbers and make 200 identifications annually by 2015.

Not only was the feasibility study the justification for this piece of legislation, but it was purely an academic exercise in number crunching.  It made assumptions that field work for WWII recoveries would be easy, compared to those in Vietnam War locations, resulting in multiple remains from aircrafts of the era, making the numbers easy to achieve.  To make matters worse, the mandate was imposed upon the accounting community at a time when the economy was tanking, money tight, no infrastructure in place to allow for an orderly implementation, Afghanistan still at fever pitch and the military headed for major   cuts in budget and manpower.

Easier said than done, accurately describes the mandate fiasco.  Field operations are time intensive and complicated, requiring a laundry list of “musts,” such as the necessity that teams include unexploded ordnance experts, medics and anthropologists at most excavations.  While the military is able to fulfill several needs, finding anthropologists, who are qualified to work under challenging – sometimes dangerous — conditions, does not come easy, cheap or from the military.  However, he/she must commit 20-30 days for each field mission, and I am not talking about European vacations.

The desire to bring home loved ones from WWII locations is absolutely honorable, and I wholly support efforts in this direction, along with efforts in North Korea, as long as we can ensure our team’s safety and also finish the job in Vietnam.  But it is time to tell the American people the truth about the numbers that we should be focusing on, if we ever want to move forward in a consistent direction.

A former member of DPMO, which is the organization that created the WWII database and spearheaded the 2010 mandate, told me that the 80,000-plus number of MIAs bandied about does not accurately reflect the number that are believed recoverable, particularly from WWII.  Within the WWII sector, DPMO thinks that 30,000 may be recoverable, since many of our losses from that war went down with their ships, while others are buried in historic locations and cannot be moved.  And saddest of all, thousands may never come home, because we lack enough information of their whereabouts.

In all fairness to DPMO, their efforts to create a solid WWII database were well-intended, especially since the 2010 mandate required an uptick in WWII recoveries.  I have spent a lot of time trying to understand why the Army Graves Registration Service, which headed the recovery effort following WWII for five consecutive years, spent more war-time dollars in the history of recoveries and brought home approximately 280,000 of our MIAs, yet still left behind thousands of our heroes in Europe and Asia Pacific.  When I learned that the newly-formed WWII database lacked sufficient information at this point to achieve the anticipated recovery success, I understood what happened in the past.   It is likely that many of our WWII losses will come home, but far less than the numbers indicate.

Vietnam Success Story

After years of working in Vietnam, JPAC has developed an incredible infrastructure through its permanent detachment, based in Hanoi.  Detachment 2’s core staff is primarily former military, now civil service employees, who speak Vietnamese and help to ensure that its military leadership – two officers from the Joint Command – have successful 2-year tours during their time in country.   Aside from its archival research, investigations, training Vietnamese recovery teams and conducting quarterly missions, the detachment interfaces with Vietnamese government officials, greatly contributing to our nation’s growing friendship with Vietnam.  The detachment is also responsible for hosting visiting Vietnam veterans, US government officials, family members, and the list goes on.

Detachment 2 is a poster child for what can be, and I suggest that those who think JPAC is “dysfunctional,” as apparently described in Cole’s report, take a look at what they have done in Vietnam.

I believe that efforts to bring home our loved ones from past wars, to the extent possible, is honorable and good for the soul of America.  Yes, the system needs an overhaul, but this military-directed effort is one in which every American should take pride.   When telling today’s military, “thank you for your service,” please know this is the message that families receive on behalf of our loved ones, through the efforts of JPAC and others in the accounting community, who are trying to bring them home.

 

10 Responses to “JPAC ON THE HOTSEAT”

  1. Great write-up, Elaine, and one with which I’m in full agreement, only wishing I had more time to focus on such commentaries. I’m off to Capitol Hill today to share the League’s views concernning JPAC, DPMO, LSEL, DIA and AFDIL, as well as our Service Casualty Offices, all in support of those who work tirelessly to account as fully as possible for our missing men. Your ability to communicate in this venue is deeply appreciated and most welcome, timely and accurate. Thanks for all that you do in support of our shared mission. Best, Ann

  2. Ann, No one can deliver the MIA message better than you. You have my total support and gratitude. Good luck on Capitol Hill. – Elaine

  3. Curtis Gilliland says:

    Several years ago while climbing up to a former US army base I found could have been a bomb. I went to the American consulate in HCM city and reported it. They could care less for they didn’t even ask when or where I found it.

  4. Curtis,
    I don’t know anything about the reporting chain regarding possible unexploded ordnance in Vietnam, but I do know from personal experience that JPAC teams take every precaution possible during MIA field operations to check for UXOs. Thanks for checking in. Elaine

  5. Gwen Bolton says:

    Elaine,
    We continue to pray with you and for you in your hope that Jerry too will be found and brought home. Every time I hear of an identification of one lost in Nam I think of your loved one and trust one day it will be Jerry. Sincerely, Gwen Bolton

  6. Gwen,
    Thank you for your lovely email. Your prayers are much appreciated, no matter what happens in the end. Warmest regards, Elaine

  7. Curtis Gilliland says:

    This is a follow up to my reporting of finding unexplored ordinance. No one had been to LZ Center a few years ago, except local farmers. The area is covered with tall grass and it shows very little signs of being an old army base. We climbed for sometime thru the jungle until we reached the spot where LZ Center was located. The base where my friend’s father served and my cousin was serving when he was killed. Since then we climbed one other time to the old base. As, far as we know the possible bomb still lays on the ground. I went to the consulate in HCM City to inform the of the find and location. The officer I spoke with had a, I don’t care attitude. He never asked where the spot was, nor to look at the picture I had taken. Perhaps, one day someone will stumble across the spot and just perhaps, one more causality of that war. I left and have never heard anything from the agency.

  8. Curtis,
    Thanks for the update. You tried….

  9. Curtis says:

    The video of the trips to LZ Center can be seen by going to the website “thecharlietigers.com”.

  10. Thanks so much — I’m sure there will be interest in your video. The topography in Vietnam is changing rapidly. Best, Elaine


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