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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 ‘JPAC Commander Maj Gen Kelly McKeague’

MIA IN VIETNAM: NEVER SAY NEVER

Friday, May 24, 2013 @ 08:05 AM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

dscn1967

 Hattie Johnson, Head of the POW/MIA Casualty Office for the Marine Corps, and her assistant, Chuck Williams, are busy preparing for the 44th Annual League Meeting, June 13-15, 2013, in Washington, D.C.  For families with loved ones still unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, this meeting is a must. (Not pictured is Mike Ryba, a newcomer to Hattie’s team)

 The 44th Annual Meeting of the National POW/MIA League of Families takes place in Washington, D.C., June 13-15, 2013.  By virtue of the meeting’s longevity, leadership and roster of distinguished attendees, it is a big deal for Vietnam War families with loved ones still unaccounted-for in Southeast Asia.  The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) hosts the event that draws 250 to 300 people, including Congressmen, active duty and retired generals and foreign dignitaries, some of whom travel from as far away as Vietnam.  For over 35 years, the League has had its own in-house guiding force, Ann Mills Griffiths, who now serves as Chairman of the Board, and a lot more.

Although the meeting is business-oriented with families seeking answers and case updates, there is a social component in which familiar faces, year after year, make the meeting a “kumbaya” occasion in the best sense of the word, despite the sad premise that brings everyone together.   

ONE DOOR CLOSES, ANOTHER OPENS

One of the people that I enjoy seeing at the Annual League meeting is Hattie Johnson, Head of the POW/MIA Casualty Office for the Marine Corps — even though the reference to “casualty office” takes me back to the worst day of my life when I learned that my first husband, Capt Jerry Zimmer, an F-4 pilot shot down in Vietnam on August 29, 1969, was not coming home. A young Marine Corps Captain, making his first ever casualty call, showed up at my door and was just as devastated, trying to deliver the news, as I was to hear it.  Now 40 years later, it would be an honor to welcome Hattie into my home, as a friend, or as a casualty officer, with news that Jerry’s remains were identified and coming home for burial in Arlington National Cemetery.

In fact, the best part of her job is “the day I call you and tell you he is coming home,” says Hattie, during a recent conversation, from her office at Marine Corps Base Quantico.  Regardless of the years that have transpired or the specific past war that was fought, when the remains of an MIA Marine have been identified, Hattie calls the Primary Next of Kin (PNOK) – if known – to arrange a time when she can visit the PNOKs home and present a final briefing on their loved one’s case.

Conveying the message is not always as easy as it might seem, since families may have given up hope and moved on – literally — to a different location.  Hattie interfaces with all the different groups involved in the MIA process, especially DPMO and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), and almost always tracks down the PNOK eventually or locates a surviving family member.

 THE WAIT IS OVER

Marine Corps Pfc. Daniel A. Benedett of Seattle, WA, missing from the Vietnam War, was buried May 14, 2013, in Arlington National Cemetery, along with 12 other servicemen from the same crash — all but three were Marines. Scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) used circumstantial evidence and DNA to account for  Benedett’s remains.  On May 12, 1975, Khmer Rouge gunboats captured the S.S. Mayaguez in the Gulf of Thailand, approximately 60 nautical miles off the coast of Cambodia. When efforts to secure the release of the ship and its crew failed, U.S. military forces began a rescue mission, sending in helicopters that came under heavy enemy fire, and the one with Benedett crashed into the surf with him and 25 others aboard.  Thirteen were rescued at sea, leaving Benedett and 12 other service members previously unaccounted-for.  (Photo:  Seattle Times)

NOT FORGOTTEN

Logging thousands of miles, Hattie travels throughout the United States – 50 to 60 days a year to conduct family notifications, and consequently is a critical component in the closure process.  Hattie takes her job seriously and never forgets a case, but no doubt remembers even the smallest details that were particularly unique, as in the case of 1st Sgt George Humphrey,  a 29 year-old Marine killed in action in WWI, who finally came home on June 23, 2009.  “It was the oldest briefing I have ever done,” said Hattie, clearly amazed at the details that began to unfold as she learned more about the case from anthropologists at JPACs Central Identification Laboratory (CIL), located at Hickam AFB in Honolulu.  Before Hattie conducts a briefing, she does her homework.

“When I receive an Identification Book, I become a family member,” said Hattie, who tries to focus on the details that a sister, wife or distant relative might want to know – even when there is a long generational gap between the MIA and surviving family members.   She also knows that briefings can be emotional.  “All of us cry – I think it’s a happy and sad reaction.” Hattie explains that most families never expect that a loved one’s remains will be found.

Since the Humphrey case was a large media event, Hattie was able to discuss the case, but normally she would adhere to Department of Defense (DoD) privacy policies by not releasing information to third parties.  “The only thing we can provide to other people is whatever is on the Internet or on JPACs and DPMOs websites,” she said.  In the case of Vietnam War MIAs, some families still live in the same homes, as once shared by their missing loved ones, and prefer not to have their addresses, telephone numbers or other details released to the general public.  When people call to inquire about the status of an MIA case, Hattie suggests that they “Google the name, since buddies may have written about him.”

Indeed, Humphrey’s story captured national media attention, and with good reason.  According to Hattie and others, young Humphrey was serving with the 6th Marine Regiment that was part of the first, U.S.-led offensive at St. Mihiel, in northern France, under the command of General John “Black Jack” Pershing.  The unit was caught in the middle of a contentious battle and Humphrey was killed instantly when a German bullet penetrated his flimsy steel helmet.  Thanks to a French relic hunter, Humphrey’s remains were returned to the United States, where they underwent a year of forensic testing in JPACs laboratory.

NEVER SAY NEVER

1stSgt George Humphrey, USMC, was killed in action on Sept 15, 1918, in WWI, on a battlefield in northern France.  Humphrey’s remains were repatriated to the United States in 2009, and after extensive forensic testing for identification, he was interred a year later in Arlington National Cemetery.  Hattie’s advice:  “Never say never.”

The material evidence was nothing short of an anthropologist’s dream, consisting of the clothing and gear Humphrey was wearing at the time of his death – the rusted helmet still covered his intact skull; his chest area contained clips of rifle ammunition;  boots were still on his feet; and his favorite homemade pipe, 14-carat gold fountain pen and dog tags were also with him.  Hattie tracked down Humphrey’s extended family members, and they were thrilled to welcome a distant, long-lost cousin back home after being MIA for 92 years.  One of the cousins was an 85-year-old woman, who was very sharp, according to Hattie, and showed her pictures of Humphrey’s parents during the briefing.  Humphrey was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on June 23, 2010.

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MIA RECOVERIES: HOW MUCH IS A PROMISE WORTH?

Friday, March 1, 2013 @ 09:03 AM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

 

 The Vietnam Memorial Wall — most visited memorial in Washington, D.C.

For some people heavily engaged in social media where it seems everything is aired these days, the  doomsday prediction of sequestration is like theater – good actors, bad story. 

But for those of us with MIAs still unaccounted from past wars, such as the Vietnam War in my family’s case, sequestration could deal another blow to the recovery system which has suffered greatly throughout the decades for a variety of reasons, most notably the existence of different ideologies between the U.S. and other governments where the remains of our MIAs still exist.   

But these days, the culprit appears to be the unpredictability of our own government.  And while budget dilemmas have often been a problem with MIA operations, this time the cuts are running rampant throughout the entire military, which has ultimate responsibility for MIA recovery efforts.   Needless to say, sequestration must go!    It was a bad decision by U.S. leadership to even suggest the use of sequestration early-on, but now it is turning into a disaster,  hurting our military, core civil service employees and embarrassing our country on a global level.  

CHERRY PICKING

This blog is meant to be apolitical, but there are times when it is difficult to sit on the sidelines and see our country going in reverse – as in back to the 1960s when civil rights, women’s rights and the draft were justifiably in need of change, but our military took the brunt of those social battles and some see us headed in that direction again.   However, with today’s all-volunteer military, often serving multiple tours in high-threat war zones, it remains to be seen if the bravest among us will allow themselves to be used as pawns!  If ever there were a time to set an example that our active-duty military does count, it is now.   These are smart people who are watching closely at how we treat their retired and MIA counterparts, as well.

SEQUESTRATION — DANGEROUS POLITICS

While post-war drawdown is nothing new, the current situation [sequestration] seems downright dangerous.  Even more concerning is that many Americans nowadays are disengaged from the reality of war, including some of our elected officials.  With instability in the Middle East – not just Iraq and Afghanistan – along with areas in Asia Pacific flexing military muscle, it is difficult to talk about bringing home our loved ones from past wars when we’re having trouble spreading the wealth among those who are engaged in today’s military commitments.   

Yet, it is important to understand that the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) – the government organization that reports to the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) – plays an important role in our nation’s ongoing efforts to strengthen economic, political and security ties within Asia Pacific.  We need only look at recovery operations in Burma, which are underway, thanks in part to the success of humanitarian efforts in Vietnam.  But behind the scenes, our two countries are hoping this renewed relationship leads to a lot more.

KEEPING THE PROMISE

JPAC is tasked with the huge responsibility of finding and identifying MIAs from past wars, comprising what may be the largest, ongoing humanitarian effort ever conducted by the U.S.  With more than 80,000 MIAs still unaccounted for around the globe, it is believed that one-third of them may be recoverable and identified.  

However, sequestration has already begun to impact JPACs manpower and recovery operations, and if the situation does not improve soon, the outcome could be devastating to Vietnam War recoveries.  JPAC has taken some serious cuts to its budget but the worst is yet to come if furloughs are next — recovery/excavation operations will cease if they have to furlough civilians. 

According to current rules, JPAC would be required to arrange two furlough days every pay period (2 weeks), and since teams deploy for 35-45 days, they would not be able to deploy any anthropologists and operations would cease.  The clock is ticking in Vietnam War locations where acidic soil is rapidly degrading the remains of our loved ones; economic progress is moving faster than excavations; and Vietnamese witnesses to our wartime losses are dying off.   

What many people do not understand is that JPACs operations are largely military-to-military with support from a group of highly skilled civilian workers, most of whom are former military, as well.  Keeping boots on the ground in areas where our loved ones are still unaccounted for is an excellent way to support and solidify relationships that once seemed unthinkable.