Our Mission:

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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MIA RECOVERIES: U.S. MILITARY RAMPS UP HUMANITARIAN EFFORTS

Thursday, November 21, 2013 @ 12:11 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis
This flag is a reminder of why the MIA accounting community is so important.  Their  mission is to bring home our MIAs from former battlefields around the world, to the extent possible amd a promise worth keeping.

This flag is a reminder of why the MIA accounting community is so important. Their mission is to bring home our MIAs from former battlefields around the world, to the extent possible — a promise worth keeping.

As the former wife of an MIA, still unaccounted for in Vietnam, I have spent much of my life trying to figure out if I could have done something more for my first husband, Capt. Jerry Zimmer, for whom this blog is dedicated. Unlike many wives who worried about their husband’s aircraft being shot down, I never thought for a minute that Jerry would not come home. He was invincible in my eyes, and I was totally unprepared when the unthinkable happened on August 29, 1969.

I’ve come to accept the realization that guilt follows most MIA family members for one reason or another, and I am no exception.

For many of us, the ability to transfer some of the burden to the accounting community, consisting of several groups, including the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) and Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), has been a blessing; but for some, it has become a transference of blame to someone else.

BOOTS ON THE GROUND

Those who follow efforts to recover our service members from past wars, now classified as MIAs, know that our active duty military plays an important role. And with the evolution of the recovery program, focused these days on a much larger mission, involving MIAs in the many thousands, our military’s humanitarian outreach is expected to become even more critical and quadruple over time. In my opinion, the program cannot survive without members of our military.

Most active duty members I’ve met during my many visits to Vietnam have also served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have been a long-time advocate of our military, but never to the extent that I am today. These young men and women, who work behind the scenes and receive little-to-no recognition, are my heroes. They truly understand the mission, perhaps better than most, since they have been there, done that and made it out alive.

What many MIA followers do not realize is that military members, assigned to JPAC field operations, know of the negative media publicity that has surfaced in recent months, often focused on JPAC. Working in unbelievable conditions, trying to bring home our loved ones, our military take these hits personally.

THE LEARNING CURVE

I did not know of JPAC until recent years. As the military command, headquartered at Hickam AFB in Honolulu, HI, that searches former battlefields throughout the globe, JPAC is the operational wing within the accounting community that conducts field investigations and excavations, hoping their efforts will lead to recoveries and identifications of MIAs through material evidence, DNA and other forensic techniques. JPACs Central Identification Laboratory (CIL), also located at Hickam, has the final say in all identifications, as it seeks to reunite families with their loved ones for burial in the United States, the country for which they paid the ultimate price.

When I began writing about our family’s quest to bring home Jerry’s remains, I had finally found a way to help Jerry and hopefully a few others involved in the process. Although I knew little about JPACs mission, I was accustomed to traveling throughout the world and thanks to my husband, Ron, a Marine veteran who has given me all his FF mileage and much more, I landed at the door of JPACs Detachment 2 in Hanoi again and again. Today, MIA family members are no longer afraid to visit Vietnam, and in most cases, they also end up at the detachment. Armed with a lot of luck and solid research, many of us have become quasi participants in our loved one’s case.

LOOKING AHEAD

What the future holds for our MIAs is anyone’s guess. With the mandate in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requiring that the CIL produce 200 identifications annually by 2015 and thereafter, the bar has been set incredibly high.

JPAC and DPMO were expected to come up with a plan, outlining their vision for an overhaul of the accounting community for Senate sub-committee hearings this fall; however, Sen. Clair McCaskill (D-MO), chair of the committee,  just announced that she is writing legislation to extend the deadline by one year — presumably Congress has a busy schedule with healthcare and election issues until then.  This will offer JPAC more time to get its house in order, and DPMO is likely to be making some internal upgrades, as well.

Meanwhile our military is still on the job, performing this enormous humanitarian mission to bring home our loved ones –an effort that makes America different and to one Vietnamese cabbie, a place he thinks of as “heaven.”

MY RETURN TO VIETNAM — PART ONE

Wednesday, October 2, 2013 @ 08:10 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

IMG_0673final blogPictured is the JPAC military team relaxing on the beach after 21 days in the Vietnam jungle, conducting the recent excavation of Jerry’s and Al’s crash site.  Civilian anthropologist  Dr. Nicolette Parr (4th, L) and Team Leader Cpt. Steven Moebes, US Army (3rd, L), led the operation, working with the above military specialists from the joint services (USPACOM).  Also pictured is JPACs Detachment 2 Casualty Resolution Specialist, Ron Ward (R), a dear friend to all Vietnam War MIA families.

Schedules do not always sync up when traveling, but I lucked out during my visit to Vietnam in early September and connected with some friends – new and old – and several active-duty military teams and civilian specialists, many of whom were from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) at Hickam AFB in Honolulu, HI.  The latter were in country to conduct quarterly field operations, primarily in the Central Highlands.  The August/September time frame is generally considered the best for investigations and recoveries in that location – despite the oppressiveness of the heat.

Initially I had no set plans to link up with the JPAC team assigned to excavate the site of my first husband, Capt Jerry Zimmer, USMC, and his Radar Intercept Officer, 1st Lt. Al Graf; however, as a solo traveler, I was able to rearrange my  schedule to include a brief meeting with them in Danang, at the conclusion of the excavation.

The team camped adjacent to the site in makeshift quarters and worked 21 days with the hope of finding Jerry’s and Al’s remains.  Sadly, no remains were found, but Dr. Nicolette Parr, the anthropologist/scientific leader for the excavation, said the team was unable to finish excavating the whole site but found a considerable amount of material evidence and, consequently, she left the site open.*

A TOUGH JOB

Not unusual for a crash involving a high speed F-4 Phantom, the debris field can be extensive and require several phases to complete.  For newcomers to my blog, Jerry’s crash site is located approximately 20 miles southwest of Danang in the Que Son Mts.  Jerry was the Section Leader on a mission to clear a landing zone in that area for a recon insert.  He had just dropped his first bomb load when hit by 50 Cal machine gun fire, which is believed to have come from a cave in the nearby mountainous terrain.  Neither Jerry nor Al were able to eject and both were declared Killed in Action/No Body Recovered and ultimately listed as Missing in Action.

Dr. Parr could not be specific about a future excavation, but I do know that sites like Jerry’s and Al’s are among the toughest and most time-consuming.  Early-on, LTC Todd Emoto, a former Commander of Detachment 2, described the mountainside site as exceeding the length of a football field, which said it all.  As the only civilian among approximately 15 military team members, Dr. Parr said she was a little intimidated at the beginning of her first JPAC excavation, but that was short-lived.  Her counterpart, Cpt. Steven Moebes, US Army, was the Team Leader responsible for U.S. boots-on-the-ground during the excavation.  Cpt Moebes told me that every morning his team woke up with one thought in mind – maybe today is the day we will find remains.  Also involved in the excavation were Vietnamese villagers and members of the Vietnamese Recovery Team (VRT).

It was apparent that Moebes and Parr were a good team and respected for their leadership roles.  Maybe it’s the writer in me, but whenever I visit Vietnam and have an opportunity to meet our military up close, it always reminds of why I am there and helps me cope with this very sad mission.

SIMPLY THE BEST

The majority of team members come in all sizes, ages, ethnicities and specialties, but one thing they have in common is that they are members of our active duty military.   We are fortunate to have an all-volunteer military of the highest caliber.  When you look at the attached photo,  please understand that our military serves the country in many different ways throughout the globe, and when deployed with JPAC to Vietnam, Laos, Tarawa, Burma, New Guinea or wherever else we still have MIAs, they are serious about the job and dedicated to bringing home our loved ones.   If the team could have made Jerry’s and Al’s remains appear, they would have done it in a nano second, but it doesn’t work that way.  I  was so glad to have a face-to-face opportunity to thank them for their hard work.

What happens next with Jerry’s case will be determined by JPAC and others within the accounting community. Although it is likely that the site will undergo a final phase, they will look at the evidence to determine the case’s continued viability.  I am confident that JPAC will do the right thing.

Many thanks to JPACs Detachment 2 Commander, LTC Julian Tran, USA. and  Det 2 Casualty Resolution Specialist Ron Ward, both of whom facilitated my visit, which will be discussed at greater length in my next blog.

 *Three sets of remains were found elsewhere in Vietnam and sent back to JPACs laboratory for identification.  Sometimes it takes a while, but we are still finding Vietnam War remains, so no one is giving up!

PART TWO – PREVIEW

Repatriation Ceremony – Bringing Them Home
Detachment Two – Making It Happen
Military Historical Tours – In-Country with Capt. Ed Garr
Tourism in Vietnam – The Next Wave