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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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Archive for the ‘MIA Recoveries in Vietnam’ Category

MIA RECOVERIES: STAY THE COURSE

Thursday, December 6, 2012 @ 11:12 AM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

JPAC and Vietnamese Recovery Teams are deep within Vietnam’s Que Sons, May 2012, excavating Jerry’s and Al’s crash site.  Being adept at rock climbing is almost a necessity at many of the remaining jet crash sites from the Vietnam War, especially in Laos.

Until recently I have been more opposed than supportive of the Congressional mandate in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) dealing with missing persons from past wars.  However,  I always try to keep an open mind and must admit that this piece of legislation may end up being a gift in terms of keeping the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) moving forward on global recovery efforts of our MIAs in these uncertain times.   

Yet, understanding the nature of the accounting mission is imperative as the House Armed Services Committee and others examine the overall structure, leadership, redundancy and anything else within the accounting community that might affect the mandate’s success.  Tackling the big issues is important, but decision makers should tread carefully, because even the best intentions can turn into a nightmare when looking for ways to “work smarter” – translation:  do more with less – when juggling dollars and trying to make sense of gigantic cuts in the DoDs FY2013 budget.    

Families with MIAs still unaccounted-for hope that officials will communicate with knowledgeable sources inside the accounting command and within the National POW/MIA League of Families, especially League Chair Ann Mills-Griffiths who might not tell them what they want to hear, but rather what will work and what won’t.   This methodology will help get the job done and undoubtedly save money.

Military Control

Immersed in the accounting process, I often find myself reflecting on the Vietnam War and how proud Jerry was to be a Marine Corps jet pilot.  In letters, it was obvious that he was most excited about the missions that he felt confident helped our guys on the ground — that’s what it was all about.  Jerry was raised on a dairy farm, where helping your neighbor was in his genes – he brought that ethic with him to Vietnam, as did so many other young men who never came home.  It is right for our military to take care of Jerry and other MIAs whenever possible, and it appears that they will officially be given that role.  According to the 2013 NDAA, Section 525 will require the Secretary of Defense to ensure that there is a “continuous military command responsibility and accountability for the remains of each deceased member of the military who died outside of the United States.” 

Stay the Course

I have been a long-time advocate of JPAC, which reports to the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) and both are located in Honolulu.  JPAC oversees investigations, recoveries and identifications of all MIAs from past wars.  My support of the organization was earned after a long period of researching, writing and accompanying JPAC active duty military and civil service members (often retired military) on a couple of field operations – including a visit to Jerry’s and Al’s site — and attending regional and annual family league meetings.  Whether or not you like a particular person or think there is a better way to do something, JPAC is committed to bringing home our MIAs, and I am increasingly in awe of their accomplishments.  Everyone in JPAC spends time in the trenches, and they deserve our support. 

To be continued….

MIA IN VIETNAM: LEVERAGE FOR RECOVERIES

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 @ 09:11 AM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

 

L-R: Elaine Zimmer Davis; Kristen Baker, anthropologist; Capt Christian Stone, USA, team leader. Elaine learned firsthand of the difficulty in finding loved one’s remains at crash sites like Jerry’s and Al’s, where the debris field of an F-4 Phantom is large and the remains are  likely to be small, if found.

The Presidential election is over, but hopefully not the work of searching for our MIAs from past wars. We will soon know how the budget shakes out for the DoD, from which the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) indirectly receives its funding. As of October 2012, JPACs Central Identification Lab (CIL) and its predecessors have identified 991 MIAs from the Vietnam War, which is the only way an MIA can officially be listed as accounted-for and the case closed. This figure reveals a lot about the difficulty encountered over the past four decades to retrieve our MIAs from that part of the world, where post-war fallout created seemingly endless problems.

The good news is that current operations in Vietnam, Cambodia and to some extent in Laos have never been more amicable.  The National POW/MIA League of Families, under long-time advocate and League Chairman for Vietnam War MIAs, Ann Mills Griffiths, continues to urge our government to press on, now that we are receiving good cooperation from our former adversaries. The leaders in the US accounting community seem to have received the message. Nevertheless, no one is underestimating the negative effects of budget cuts and the desire to increase WWII recoveries.  And while no one fears that a departure from operations in Southeast Asia is imminent, families are always concerned about deep cuts.  In the search for additional leverage, we may have stumbled across an unexpected gift that visionaries should recognize as a solid reason for the US to stay the course in Vietnam War locations, while conducting neighboring WWII recoveries — possibly in Myanmar/Burma, looking for hundreds of our pilots killed while crossing the Hump —  still regarded as the most dangerous flying in wartime history.

The Big Picture

During my visit to Vietnam in May/June 2012, I spoke briefly with current JPAC Commander LTC Patrick Keene, a career Army officer who heads Detachment Two in Hanoi. “We can finish this job within the next seven or eight years,” he said, noting that some MIAs may never be recovered, but JPAC needs to keep digging for those with potential. My first husband, Capt Jerry Zimmer, USMC, and his Radar Intercept Officer (RIO), 1st Lt. Al Graf, are believed to fall in the latter category.

As a Foreign Area Officer (FAO), LTC Keene’s background may be one of the primary reasons for his selection to lead JPACs top in-country billet at this point in history. An FAO is trained to work in foreign countries and to advise senior U.S. military and civilian leaders on regional issues.

LTC Keene’s knowledge of Southeast Asia with a Vietnam specialty dates back to 2002 when he was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and later assumed responsibility for the U.S. Humanitarian Assistance/Demining Program. He sees the bigger picture in Vietnam and looks at ways in which JPAC can balance recovery efforts with an eye on helping the country achieve its future goals in other areas – no doubt LTC Keene’s vision is similar to those who believe that Vietnam can potentially become a major port of call and a lot more.

LTC Patrick Keene, Commander of JPACs Detachment Two in Hanoi believes that the US can complete the job of recovering our MIAs from the Vietnam War in less than a decade, but Keene knows that it can’t be done without proper funding.

But LTC Keene and other members of the active-duty military are not wearing blinders. They know that deep cuts in the DoD budget could hurt all operations, including MIA recoveries across the board. However, the realignment of troops to the Asia Pacific Theater, as they depart Iraq and Afghanistan, could benefit Vietnam War recoveries — even though the primary reason for the realignment is to maintain stability in Asia Pacific. With 60% of US naval assets moving in that direction, it is well known that several countries, some of which  include US allies and trade partners, have been involved in long-time disputes with their neighbors, particularly over maritime issues in which China frequently is a common denominator.

Leverage…

Although maritime issues may sound like a benign concern, there is a lot at stake for several countries vying for ownership of trade routes and natural resources in the South China Sea and elsewhere. The squabbles might end up erupting into something more, so our military’s presence can assist in achieving a peaceful, equitable outcome for all involved. Among areas of concern is Vietnam – a country in which we have invested dearly over the years to bring home our MIAs, mend fences and help the country prosper as trade partners, so it might be advisable that we stay the course, or someone else will take our place.

According to Kathleen Hicks, principal undersecretary of defense for policy, in a speech on Sept 24, 2012, to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “The stability and prosperity in this region [Asia Pacific Theater] will be shaped by our ability to work together.” Hicks also spoke about the “whole of government” effort to strengthen partnerships and deepen relationships with emerging powers for human rights and to advance trade and investment in the region.

Budget shortfalls or not, there is no turning back now. The need to comply with the mandate in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for JPAC to produce 200 identifications annually by 2015 will probably favor recoveries with the greatest chance of success and the path of least resistance in countries where we have a lot more at stake than the return of our MIAs.  Whatever it takes to keep JPAC on the job in Southeast Asia is okay with me and I am certain with other families who have loved ones still unaccounted-for in Southeast Asia.