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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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Posts Tagged ‘Brig Gen Gerry Miller’

REMEMBERING OUR FALLEN HEROES ON MEMORIAL DAY

Sunday, May 25, 2014 @ 12:05 AM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

On August 20, 2009, my first husband, Capt. Jerry Zimmer, USMC, was honored with a full military memorial service, performed by the Marine Corps at Arlington National Cemetery.  Jerry’s son, Craig, is shown here accepting the American Flag, as his father’s primary next of kin.  Forty years after his death, Jerry received a headstone in a special section of Arlington for missing-in-action service members and others with similar circumstances.

Many Americans will celebrate Memorial Day on Monday, May 26, 2014, in honor of the brave men and women who lost their lives while serving our country with the Armed Forces.  This day offers an opportunity to remember them in a special way, as is often the case among families with wartime losses and active duty military and veterans who lost buddies while serving our nation.

A lot of Americans fly the American flag, attend a Memorial Day ceremony or visit a loved one’s gravesite, giving meaning to a phrase that says it all – you are not forgotten. While in Washington, D.C. in late April, I visited Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for so many of our young battlefield heroes. I am always left with a sense of pride and sorrow, and this visit was no exception.

Death Too Soon

My first visit to Arlington was during the Vietnam War, when Capt. Charlie Pigott, USMC, died in a horrific F-4, midair collision over Da Nang in May 1969.  Most of the people who attended his funeral were wives or girlfriends of pilots, still in country and unable to come home for the service.  I remember feeling so small and insignificant, surrounded by a seemingly endless mass of white headstones, yet thinking that it wouldn’t happen to Jerry.  We all loved Charlie and were heartbroken about his death and the other casualties involved in the collision. Three months later Jerry was gone, too.  Unlike Charlie, his remains did not come home, so Jerry did not have a funeral in Arlington, where I thought at the time all war casualties were buried, if not in their hometown.

As a young military wife whose experience with death was very limited, I was unprepared at first for a funeral without a body, but reality kicked in when I learned that Jerry was unable to eject from his F-4 — a supersonic jet.  I knew how much Jerry loved the farming community of Maine, NY, where he was raised and adored by the town’s people.  I arranged to have a service at the family farm, knowing that it would mean a lot to his parents.  That day was surreal for me then and still remains a blur in many ways.

Rewriting History

Fast forward 40 years.  Our family learned that Arlington has a special memorial section for service members missing in action; remains not recovered or identified; remains buried at sea; remains donated to science; or remains cremated with ashes scattered but no portion interred, as described on Arlington’s website.

On August 20, 2009, Jerry was honored at Arlington with a full Marine Corps memorial service.  A headstone was placed adjacent to one for  1st Lt Al Graf, the navigator who also perished when their aircraft went down.  Jerry’s memorial event was extraordinarily touching with  family members present, including his son, Craig, who accepted the American Flag, with his wife and children nearby, along with many of his dad’s friends and military buddies who came from great distances to pay their respects.

If Jerry’s remains are found, they will be interred in the burial section of Arlington. For more information about memorial services at Arlington, families should contact the casualty officer for their loved one’s branch of service.

A Beautiful Sight

Marking its 150th anniversary this year, Arlington will be dressed for Monday’s event, as is the case every Memorial Day.  The Old Guard recently completed their annual tribute to America’s fallen military heroes with its Flags-in ceremony, setting a small American flag at each of the 220,000 headstones in the cemetery. This tradition dates back to 1948, and belongs to the Army’s 3rd United States Infantry Regiment – a very unique unit that has my deepest respect for their patriotism and continued efforts to remember our nation’s heroes.  Thank you for what you do.

A special thanks this Memorial Day to all the men and women of DPMO and JPAC who continue to search for the remains of loved ones still unaccounted for from past wars.  Your efforts make it possible for many families to believe that one day their loved ones might be moved from the battlefields of long ago to the sacred grounds of Arlington or another special place of honor.

REPATRIATION CEREMONY — BRINGING THEM HOME

Thursday, October 17, 2013 @ 03:10 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis
Participants in the Repatriation Ceremony included (Center) LTC Julian Tran, Commander of JPACs Detachment 2 in Hanoi, and U.S. Consul General Rena Bitter, from Ho Chi Minh City. Both are flanked by members of the Vietnam Office for Seeking Missing Persons.  The transfer of remains was about to take place.

Participants in a recent Repatriation Ceremony, held at Da Nang Airport,  included (Center) LTC Julian Tran, Commander of JPACs Detachment 2 in Hanoi, and U.S. Consul General Rena Bitter, from Ho Chi Minh City. Both are flanked by members of the Vietnam Office for Seeking Missing Persons. The transfer of remains was about to take place.

If you follow JPACs repatriation efforts, leading to identifications of MIAs from past wars, then you already know that there are many ceremonies for fallen heroes, finally home from former battlefields around the world.   

I was privileged to attend a recent MIA Repatriation Ceremony that highlighted the first leg of their journey home from Vietnam.  Here is a look at how JPACs Detachment 2 in Hanoi conducts this special send-off. 

Our Unknowns are now in the hands of the U.S. military -- a beautiful sight.

The remains of what JPAC hopes will be identified as our MIAs are now in the hands of the U.S. military — a beautiful sight.

I arrived in country in early September 2013, at the conclusion of JPACs quarterly field operations.  I had an opportunity to observe several teams, consisting primarily of military and civil service specialists on their way back to Hickam AFB in Hawaii.  They were among an approximate 100 boots-on-the-ground in the Central Highlands that had spent nearly a month investigating and excavating several sites with the hope of repatriating as many of our Vietnam War MIAs as possible to the United States.

Their successful efforts were the reason for the Repatriation Ceremony that I was about to observe.   And although I was looking at three small wooden boxes, lined in red velvet, containing unidentified remains that hopefully belonged to  American MIAs,  I knew they did not come from the crash site of my first husband, Capt Jerry Zimmer and his radar intercept officer, 1st Lt Al Graf, whose site was excavated during those same quarterly field operations.

Thumbs Up for JPAC!

Thumbs Up for JPAC!

As the former wife of an MIA still unaccounted-for, I also knew that three families, who had been waiting decades for a father, son or brother to come home, might soon have closure.  Earlier on the day of the ceremony, a preliminary test, conducted jointly by a JPAC anthropologist and another from the Vietnamese side, determined that the remains were not Vietnamese, which cleared the way for them to leave Vietnam.

It is important to note that the Vietnamese retain the remains after the test, until the handover takes place at the Repatriation Ceremony, which often follows on the same day, as was the case during my visit, or soon thereafter.  Also, this test does not determine the identification of the remains, which is conducted later in JPACs Central Identification Laboratory at Hickam.

Although Repatriation Ceremonies can take place at different airports in Vietnam, they usually are performed in the area where the majority of field operations are conducted during a particular quarter.  I was truly honored to attend the Repatriation Ceremony, held on the tarmac at Da Nang International Airport – a location that was home to many Marine and Air Force fixed wing squadrons during the Vietnam War, including Jerry’s F-4 squadron, VMFA-542.  But instead of looking up at an F-4, I was focused on a large transport aircraft that would soon be filled with our military, escorting the unidentified remains back to the U.S. — possibly after being MIA for four decades in Southeast Asia.

This one speaks for itself!

This one speaks for itself!

Despite the 90+ degree heat that bounced off the tarmac and left me looking and feeling like I’d run a marathon in a sweat suit, it was a humbling experience to be among the large gathering of team members, invited guests, diplomats, Vietnamese officials and JPAC’s military leadership and civil service employees from Detachment 2 in Hanoi.

JPACs Det 2 were well-represented by Ron Ward, Kelly Ray, Buddy Newell.

JPACs Det 2 was well-represented by Ron Ward, Kelly Ray, Buddy Newell and many others.

Consul General Rena  Bitter and LTC Julian Tran had arrived in-country recently and both were attending their first Repatriation Ceremony.  We hope there will be many to come!

Consul General Rena Bitter and LTC Julian Tran arrived in-country recently and both were attending their first Repatriation Ceremony with hopefully many more to come.

The team that worked on Jerry's and Al's site -- great people!

The team leaders that worked on Jerry’s and Al’s site — great people!

 

Since this was LTC Julian Tran’s first Repatriation Ceremony as JPAC Commander of Det 2, it was heartwarming to see him begin his tour on a successful note.  Born in Vietnam, LTC Tran left as a teenager, traveling by foot and encountering great danger along the way, but ultimately became an American citizen and an Army officer.  Tran’s goal during his two-year tour was clear:  Bring them home, he told me, without blinking an eye. Flanked by U.S. Consul General Rena Bitter, newly arrived in Vietnam, attending her first Repatriation Ceremony, Tran was also accompanied by officials from the Vietnam Office for Seeking Missing Persons (VNOSMP).   With assistance from a joint US military honor guard, the handover between the Vietnamese and Americans was brief but very dignified, as shown in the attached photos.  I was proud to be an American and hoped that Jerry knew I was there for him, as well. 

Post Script:  As I was preparing to leave at the conclusion of the ceremony, one of the Vietnamese officials that had participated in the handover ran over to shake my hand.  Since we had a language problem, I asked Casualty Resolution Specialist Ron Ward to translate, and he told me that the Vietnamese Colonel remembered me from our visit to Jerry’s crash site in May, 2012.

When the Americans and Vietnamese — which included the Colonel — were traveling to various sites last year, I was allowed to accompany them to Jerry’s and Al’s site.  This wonderful opportunity enabled me to write about the experience and hopefully to give readers insight into the unbelievable challenges involved in repatriating our loved ones.   Watching the three sets of remains being transferred to an American aircraft and then seeing the Colonel again, I found myself reflecting on the day of last year’s visit to Jerry’s crash site and was reminded of what it took to make this day’s Repatriation Ceremony happen.