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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 ‘Gene Mares’

Q & A on Writing a Book and More….

Wednesday, October 10, 2012 @ 09:10 AM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

Jerry with our son, Craig, at MCAS Beaufort, before deploying to Vietnam. This car was a piece of junk, but we loved it.

 MARINE F-4 PHANTOM FORAY: 1-4 NOVEMBER 2012

Q. The biggest challenge to working on Jerry’s case?
A. It’s the emotional aspect — no doubt about it!  Waking up every morning since his case was reopened and trying to stay upbeat about a very sad event in my life — Jerry meant the world to me, and reliving every aspect of our time together is beyond difficult. I am still close to his mom, and I will always be heartbroken for her and other family members, especially Jerry’s and my son, Craig.

Q. Do my comments about Jerry bother Ron?
A. I’m sure they hurt in some ways, but Ron is not competing with someone who is going to come walking through the door. Years ago, I truly felt that I would need to make a decision between the two, because Jerry would come home, but that was as a result of being young and thinking he was invincible. Hope doesn’t replace reality. Ron knew how I felt when we married, and I never hid my feelings about Jerry from him. As a former combat pilot, serving in Vietnam, this made all the difference in our relationship. Ron did a wonderful job of raising Craig for which I will always be grateful — plus, we have now been married for decades.

Q. Why not let JPAC do the job?
A. I do, but there are still 80,000-plus MIAs unaccounted-for from past wars, and I have been in a unique position to recruit a lot of help from Ron, a retired Marine and also a helicopter pilot, and many active duty military and veterans, all of whom have brought something useful to the case. At one point, Ron compiled all our information into a very detailed PowerPoint and handed it to JPAC to help them do their job.

Q. Do you get special attention from JPAC?
A. Yes and no — access would be a better word, but that access is not exclusive to me. After attending several Family League meetings in D.C. and regional ones around the country, traveling to JPAC headquarters in Hawaii with Ron and visiting Detachment 2 in Vietnam on several occasions, I have come to know the people who do this work and have a huge amount of respect for them – at headquarters and in the detachments. I hope they feel likewise. Our family could not do this without JPACs help. Missteps in the mid ’90s placed the case in the “No Further Pursuit Category,” and as a result JPAC has tried hard to rectify the error. In the end, we are like everyone else with an MIA still unaccounted for, JPAC cannot make the remains appear – time has taken its toll on all remains from the Vietnam War, no good deeds can ensure a happy ending.  This is the reality.

Q. What would you do over?
A. Not tell anyone that I was writing a book, which actually began while living in Hong Kong! I have been a writer/editor for years, but writing a first-person account of something that was such a happy time in my life — but became the most painful — has been very difficult. I jokingly told a friend recently that I needed a writing therapist. As a long-time non-fiction writer, who has typically focused on third-person stories – not first person, the subject matter is very personal, and I’m not used to sharing in that way. But, after assessing my strengths on how to best honor Jerry’s memory, in addition to championing his repatriation, I decided writing this book was the best thing I could do.

Q. Why do a blog if writing a book is so painful?
A. The blog is part of a bigger picture involving MIAs from the Vietnam War and beyond. It is important that everyone do their part to help keep the MIA situation on the front burner – this is what we do for military heroes who  sacrificed their lives for our country and never came home for a proper burial. As a writer, I can contribute, and this is what I am doing.

Q. Aren’t you afraid that someone will steal your blog material for a book?
A. No. I have been in this business for a long time, and my material is protected by copyright law. I take no donations, nor do I sell anything on my site. But as a professional journalist, I am very hardcore when it comes to plagiarism – especially involving a book on this subject. Most people would not think of infringing, but unfortunately I have met a couple of people, who I won’t name,  in the MIA community that have serious fraudulent pasts, and nothing they might do would surprise me. I am prepared.  However, I do not mind sharing my blogs and photos with credit — the idea is to bring more people into the fold.  I try to be accurate but generally don’t update each blog — use at your own risk.

Q. When is your book expected to be published?
A. I have no idea – the case takes priority, as does my blog.

Q. What bothers you most since working on Jerry’s case?
A. Disingenuous people who try to benefit by preying on others’ emotions, especially our veterans — I stay away from those people.  Sadly, Facebook and other social media have given a forum to unvetted people who spend time denigrating people for sympathy and gain. I’ve tried to interface with good people and approach bringing Jerry home as a solid, ethical journey.  I have lived a very good life, and I credit Jerry and Ron for inspiring me to become a writer. Using this skill has allowed me to give back.

Q. Is the case nearing the end?
A. I believe that the field portion is certainly near the end, but if remains are found, then it’s up to the folks in JPACs lab to determine if they belong to Jerry and/or Al. And, there is no guarantee that either guy’s remains will be found. But I do not know when and/or if JPAC will return to Jerry’s and Al’s site.

NATIONAL POW/MIA RECOGNITION DAY — FRIDAY, September 21, 2012

Wednesday, September 19, 2012 @ 02:09 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

 

 The Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC) keynote speaker for the annual National POW/MIA Recognition Day Ceremony, Friday, September 21,  is retired Col. William S. Reeder, US Army.   A former Vietnam War POW, Col. Reeder is  among 400 JPAC personnel and invited guests attending the event at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.  Col. Reeder’s AH1 Cobra attack helicopter was shot down on May 9, 1972, during the Easter Offensive in the Ben Het area of the Central Highlands. Thought to be an MIA, Reeder’s POW status was not known until his release a year later. Col Reeder, a Captain at the time, sustained multiple injuries from the crash, including a broken back and tried unsuccessfully for three days to escape the enemy. I encourage anyone reading this post to visit www.pownetwork.org/bios/r/r090.htm. Col. Reeder has written a moving story about a South Vietnamese A-1 Skyraider pilot, also shot down and captured, who saved his life during a tortuous journey on foot to prison. Although the story is not pretty, the ending is beautiful.

 The evolution of the National POW/MIA Recognition Day began on July 18, 1979, to honor America’s Prisoners of War and Missing in Action (POW/MIA), following the conclusion of the Vietnam War.   It was largely a Washington, D.C., event, involving Congressional resolutions, a ceremony at the National Cathedral, and a Missing Man formation, flown by the 1st Tactical Squadron, Langley AFB, in Virginia.  The Veterans Administration created a simple poster with the letters POW/MIA.  

Enter President Ronald Reagan in 1982. So moved was he by a new POW/MIA flag, inspired by Mrs Michael Hoff, an MIA wife and member of the Nat’l League of POW/MIA Families (League), President Reagan placed priority on achieving the fullest possible accounting for Americans still missing from the Vietnam War. Other than “Old Glory”, the League’s POW/MIA flag is the only flag ever to fly over the White House, having been displayed in this place of honor on National POW/MIA Recognition Day since 1982.

By 1984, National POW/MIA Recognition Day was elevated to White House level — literally, inspiring a renewed commitment to honor all returned POWs and to renew our national commitment to account for, as fully as possible, those still missing from past wars.  The dates and some of the ceremonial traditions have changed since the early days – growing in magnitude — the League moved for the day of recognition to be observed annually on a date not associated with any particular war or League event.   Today, National POW/MIA Recognition Day is observed throughout the United States and around the world on the third Friday in September at our military installations, aboard ships and many other state and local areas throughout our nation.   Flying the  POW/MIA flag on Recognition Day has also become a part of this annual observance.

Nowadays the POW/MIA flag is fast becoming one of the most recognizable symbols of the sacrifice that these special military heroes have given for our country – in many cases, the ultimate sacrifice.  The starkness of the black & white flag is a reminder of the dark days endured by our POW/MIAs, and the prominent silhouette is a striking remembrance of their pain, not knowing when or if they would be reunited with families – many of whom did not know that their loved ones were imprisoned in a harsh environment – in the case of my generation, the jungles of Vietnam and Laos or the tough desolation of the now infamous Ha Long Prison (Hanoi Hilton)  and elsewhere.  Many families still grieve for the loss of their husbands, fathers, sons or brothers, left behind on former battlefields, wondering if they will ever come home for a proper burial in the United States of America, for which they gave so much.

2012 National POW/MIA Recognition Day — Retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. Gene Castagnetti, now the Director of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, speaks to more than 400 people during JPACs somber POW/MIA Recognition Day Ceremony at the cemetery. Seated are Johnie Webb, Deputy to the JPAC Commander, and retired Col William Reeder, US Army, Vietnam War POW. (DoD photo by William Dasher/Released)

Vietnam War families, like mine, have never forgotten their loved ones.  My first husband, Capt Jerry Zimmer, USMC, has always been a hero to our family, friends and many guys who served with him in Vietnam.   To me, the four words emblazoned at the bottom of the POW-MIA flag – “You Are Not Forgotten” – are a reminder of our Patriotic duty, regardless of the war that is nearest and dearest to our hearts, to never forget those who sacrificed their lives and suffered great indignity so that we may enjoy our freedom.