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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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Preview 2016 Vietnam War League Meeting & DoD Briefing

Monday, June 13, 2016 @ 12:06 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

 

A discussion between League Chair Ann Mills-Griffiths & DPAA Director Michael Linnington during the 2015 annual Vietnam War meeting for MIA families.

League Chair Ann Mills-Griffiths & DPAA Director Michael Linnington communicating during the 2015 annual Vietnam War meeting for MIA families.


ALERT: MICHAEL LINNINGTON’S DEPARTURE

The joint meeting of the 2016 National League of Families (aka, League) and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) is an important annual event, held in D.C., and combined to allow Vietnam War MIA families an opportunity to be among others coping with the loss of a loved one in Southeast Asia, while still seeking answers that can only come through official US Government channels.

The three-day event, June 22 – 25, 2016,* is tightly scheduled with League Chair Ann Mills-Griffiths presiding for the 47th Annual League event! All presentations delivered by DPAA leadership and staff, League officials and special guests are timed for efficiency, and Mills-Griffiths  keeps the program on a roll.

Every time I attend the annual meeting, I am amazed at the quality of the presentations and number of experts in attendance.  I always leave with a feeling that I’ve learned something new or gained a better understanding of something I had never been able to truly grasp in the past.

NOTE: The initial schedule made available to MIA families may eventually include one or two changes related to a particular speaker and/or a presenter’s topic, but below is a partial list of the 2016 presentation agenda:

Mills-Griffiths, Assessing the Reorganization of Today;

DPAA Director Michael Linnington, Today’s Mission, Priority & Objectives;

DPAA Director Strategic Initiatives, Dr. Thomas Holland, Strategic Partnerships Update;

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, Post-Vietnam Trip (Tentative);

DPAA Director Asia Pacific Directorate Col Michael Gann, USMC, Asia & Pacific Regional Approach;

Commander Navy Expeditionary Command RADM Frank Morneau, USN, Maximizing Capabilities to Expand the Accounting Process;

Others on the list are people that most of us are familiar with, such as Richard Childress, Senior League Policy Advisor; General Robert “Doc” Foglesong, USAF, (Ret.), US-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs; Johnie Webb, DPAA Deputy Director Outreach & Communications; Bob Wallace, Executive Director & Assistant Adjutant General, VFW; and many more who bring so much value to this annual event.

Also, a special welcome to two members of Director Linnington’s leadership team attending and/or presenting for the first time at the annual event: BG Mark Spindler, USA, DPAA Deputy Director, who will discuss the agency’s Operational Perspective Worldwide; and Fern Sumpter Winbush, DPAA Principal Staff Director, who will focus on the agency’s role in facilitating Family and Veteran Engagement.  I look forward to meeting them and hope they enjoy the event.

*If you are an MIA family member and have not registered but would like to attend the Government Briefing ONLY, please contact your casualty officer. Now that the deadline for registering has closed, I don’t know if there are exceptions; however, I do know that credentials are required of all attendees.

HOW DOES THE ANNUAL MEETING DIFFER FROM REGIONAL MEETINGS?

Anyone who has read my posts about the Regional DPAA meetings knows of my respect for these events held throughout the country. However, it is tough to compare the annual meeting to the regionals, because the annual event is dedicated to issues involving Vietnam War losses and recoveries, while the regionals cover all pertinent past wars.

Although some of the DoD experts at the Vietnam War annual meeting also participate in the one for the Korean War and Cold War, the majority of those attending our meeting have a long history as analysts, historians and investigators in Southeast Asia. This is very important, because Vietnam War families have been involved with efforts to find loved ones for years, and many are highly knowledgeable about the ins and outs of their loved one’s case and all the nuts and bolts in the recovery system, so it helps to have government attendees fluent, as well.

Jay Veith, League Intelligence & Research Advisor will discuss Archival Research & Investigation Potential at the 2016 meeting.

Jay Veith, League Intelligence & Research Advisor, will discuss Archival Research & Investigation Potential at the 2016 meeting.

The expertise that DoD participants bring is especially apparent during the Department of Defense Q&A session, held on the last official day of the meeting. Families are given an opportunity to ask questions, and some are very penetrating, historically and otherwise. The DoD is adept at answering most questions, and they do a great job.  Mills-Griffiths is on deck ensuring that  questions are not personal, as in discussing a particular family member’s case, and that answers are technically correct – Ann is legendary for her unbelievable recall of events dating back decades.

I will cover the 2016 event in a future blog and showcase many of the people in attendance. Please stay connected.

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.”