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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 ‘DNA’

Vietnam MIA Recoveries: FY2012 Budgets Are Shaky

Sunday, July 17, 2011 @ 11:07 AM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

JPACs Central Identification Laboratory is co-located within the organization’s headquarters on Hickam AFB in Honolulu, Hawaii. The lab is tasked with identifying all MIAs from past war-time locations, and no case is resolved until the lab makes an identification. With 88,000 MIAs still unaccounted for, the lab is in need of more forensic anthropologists and a larger facility. A portion of JPACs FY2012 budget is expected to address these concerns and others associated with field operations.

When I received a recent OP-ED, submitted by leaders of several veterans and POW/MIA organizations, I felt bad for all the families whose loved ones are believed to have disappeared behind the Iron Curtain. It appears that the Department of Defense (DoD) has decided not to fund the recently revived U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs, which was the last hope for many families seeking information from Russian archives about their loved ones.

I was also sad to learn that the DoD might take another look at the previously approved FY2012 budget for the Joint Prisoner of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC).

Although JPAC has been in need of a new Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) for a long time, the FY2012 budget is expected to help make the lab a reality. In turn, the lab and additional staff will enable JPAC to comply with the mandate in the 2010 Defense Authorization Act. The mandate requires the CIL to double the number of identifications to 200 annually by 2015.

Since the language in the mandate also includes references to funding the increased identifications, it is unlikely that the DoD will deny JPAC adequate resources. And even if the mandate were to go away, this would not negate JPACs need for a new lab and additional personnel.

The seemingly innocuous 2010 mandate thrust JPACs CIL into the spotlight, after years of being a little known, behind-the-scenes operation, other than to those people inside the forensic community who have long been in awe of their work. Even now, many individuals don’t realize that the CIL performs one of the most critical components in the recovery process, since no case – from all past wars — is considered resolved unless the lab can identify the remains as belonging to one of our MIAs.

Nearly all of the cases that JPAC’s anthropologists/scientists analyze involve decades-old remains — many dating back to WWII. This is a slow, tedious process in which DNA is not always available or even capable of contributing to a specific case. The lab currently employs 30 forensic anthropologists who work in very modest conditions, as noted in the above image.

With 88,000 of our MIAs spread around the world, we hope the DoD will stand with us and honor JPACs FY2012 budget.

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A view of attendees at the closing dinner for the 2010 meeting of the National League of POW/MIA Families in Washington, D.C.

The National League of POW/ MIA Families with loved ones still unaccounted-for in Southeast Asia will gather in Washington, D.C., July 21-24, for their annual meeting with recovery, military and government officials. Although the League has been meeting annually for four decades, I attended my first meeting last year and was impressed with the level of discussions, as well as the knowledge and devotion of families who have been involved with Vietnam War efforts from the beginning.

My focus has been on Vietnam where Jerry was killed in 1969; basically, the huge number of MIAs still unaccounted-for throughout the world has necessitated that families become personally involved with a loved one’s case, whether lost in Vietnam, WWII or Korea. Thanks to the leadership efforts of DPMO, JPAC and the National League of POW/MIA Families, we all have incredible communication tools and opportunities available to us nowadays, making it easy to interface one-on-one at events like the annual League meeting in D.C.

What makes this year’s meeting particularly important is the realization that MIA recovery operations are focusing more on WWII locations to comply with the mandate in the 2010 Defense Authorization Act ; therefore, I anticipate that many of the attendees will want to know specifically what impact this is having on Vietnam War recoveries. I am personally interested in several topics that are expected to be discussed, and the following questions are a few that I hope will be will be addressed at some point during the three-day meeting:

What significant changes are anticipated for Vietnam War detachments, manpower and field operations?

How many VN War identifications are being made annually from current field operations? How many from the cache of stored remains at JPACs Central Identifications Laboratory (CIL)?

Is there any new technology, unique to Vietnam War identifications?

How many MIA cases from the VN War are now believed recoverable, according to investigations and other data?

What role will unilateral operations play in Vietnam?