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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.

Posts Tagged ‘Col Alan Thoma’

MIA FIELD OPERATIONS EXEMPT FROM SEQUESTRATION*

Thursday, April 4, 2013 @ 10:04 AM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

Our military, VRT members and local villagers worked together at my first husband’s crash site during a Phase II excavation in 2012.  Had JPAC not received the recent exemption  from sequestration (with conditions), this type of work would likely have been put on hold.  Thanks to some behind-the-scenes support, field operations in Vietnam are back on track. 

Good news is coming out of the MIA Accounting Community, despite the challenges that still exist with sequestration.  Although I don’t know the minute details, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) – the organization responsible for recovering and identifying the remains of our loved ones from past wars – has identified means to mitigate the impact of furloughs on recovery operations, according to LTC Patrick Keane, Commander of JPACs Detachment Two (DET 2) in Hanoi. 

“It’s not pretty, but it will work – the DET in cooperation with HQ will make it work,” says Keane,  a strong leader /advocate for Vietnam War field operations and a litany of other responsibilities that go with his job, which will end in June 2013 when he rotates back to the states.  Obviously pleased with the recent about face in field operations during these troubled times, Keane is confident that with “proper resourcing and effort,” JPAC can have the bulk of cases in Vietnam completed by FY17.  “Things are in a good place,” he says, and Keane tells it like it is.

Defying the Odds

A month earlier, the picture looked very different indeed – bleak, to put it bluntly.   Speaking to a packed audience of American Legionnaires at a meeting in Washington, D.C. on February 25, Johnie Webb, Deputy to the Commander of JPACs external affairs, a Vietnam veteran and long-time JPAC civilian  employee, Webb told the group “if sequestration hits, it may essentially close down a lot of our operations.”

 Webb explained that JPAC needed to get an exception to the policy requiring civilian employees to take two furlough days per two-week pay period.   With excavations normally consisting of 30 days in the field under the leadership of a military O3 with a civilian anthropologist executing the technical aspects of the recovery, it is likely that compliance with sequestration guidelines would have placed excavations in a holding pattern until political differences were resolved on the Hill.   Now that JPAC leadership in Hawaii has received an “exception,” the work of bringing home our MIAs is moving forward at some level. 

Congratulations go to the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) to which JPAC reports and to  JPAC Commander Maj Gen Kelly McKeague, whose tour began six months ago and is off to an outstanding start. 

Maintaining Momentum

As a Southeast Asia expert, Keane knows that keeping operations on a fast track in Vietnam is important.  He has spent several years , on and off, in that part of the world, dating back to 2002 when assigned to the US Embassy in Hanoi, and a year later selected to head up the U.S. Humanitarian Assistance/Demining Program in-country. 

Aware of Vietnam’s destructive acidic soil and rapid development mode, Keane knew from day one that using time wisely was a priority.  “I’ve just tried to do what seemed like common sense to get as much done here in Vietnam as possible,” he says, mentioning areas where the DET has improved operations and strengthened in-country relationships.  With an exceptionally strong civilian staff that has over 50 years of work in MIA operations, DET 2 has been pushing a variety of new initiatives to improve the speed, efficiency and effectiveness of investigative and recovery efforts in Vietnam.    

These initiatives, such as the Vietnamese Recovery Teams (VRT); the deployment of the Research and Investigative Team (RIT) leader to Vietnam for daily contact with his Vietnamese counterparts; additional manpower in the Casualty Resolution Office to improve investigations; and deployment of a US Navy Salvage ship to address underwater recoveries are all helping to move the Vietnam MIA issue closer to closure.   Of no small significance, families who have been waiting for years to learn the whereabouts of loved ones, who seemingly disappeared into the wartime abyss, now have increased opportunities for answers to their questions.  

Core Values   

Keane’s topnotch support personnel  at DET 2 includes Deputy Commander Maj Greg Jones, USMC, who is serving a two-year joint tour, and a core group of highly skilled civilians consisting of Ron Ward, Casualty Resolution Specialist; Buddy Newell, Investigations Team (IT) Leader;  Kelly Ray, RIT Team Leader; and Daniel Young, Supply Management Supervisor.   Keane recognizes that good people play an important role in an organization’s success, and DET 2 is proof positive.  The Vietnamese have come to know and trust their JPAC counterparts, and that does not happen overnight.

“I think the Vietnamese are comfortable with our current relationship, so it’s easier to get things done,” says LTC Keane.  “These changes would have seemed radical 10 years ago, but nowadays the Vietnamese just need a nudge to see the opportunities.”

*The majority of my posts focus on Vietnam recovery efforts; however, major policy decisions, such as the exemption given to JPAC for MIA field operations in Vietnam, typically apply to other past wartime locations, as well, but I do not have any details beyond what I’ve covered here.

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. Read more