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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 ‘Lt Gen Thomas Conant’

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

 

 

 

DEMINING VIETNAM: US PACIFIC COMMAND REACHES OUT

Monday, May 6, 2013 @ 03:05 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis

To a child in Vietnam, this innocuous-looking object could be a toy, instead of a deadly UXO, left over from the Vietnam War.   In July, US Marines will train the Vietnamese military in the latest demining techniques, through the US Pacific Command’s Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA) Program, which is also being offered to other mine-affected countries in Asia Pacific.

REMNANTS OF WAR

Vietnam has a big problem, and it won’t go away soon; however, when a contingent of United States Marines land in country, July 2013, their stopover is expected to be a step in the right direction for a country eager to resolve safety issues in order to reach new heights in the global marketplace.  The Vietnamese government knows that cleaning up its environment is not an issue of going green, but rather going clean, as in demining the country — primarily in the rural areas — of its destructive explosive remnants of war (ERW) that kill and maim hundreds of its citizens every year, limit livelihoods and impede infrastructure progress.   Although the number of  UXO in Vietnam does not reach the levels of Laos and Cambodia, there is one statistic that places Vietnam in a class of its own.

According to an article in a back issue of the Journal of Mine Action, the province of Quang Tri in central Vietnam is one the most seriously affected regions in the world.  Author Zack Wall says that since the end of the Vietnam War, nearly 7,000 casualties have been reported in this province alone—exceeding casualty totals to date for entire countries such as Bosnia & Herzegovina, Ethiopia and Kosovo, to name just a few. 

 HUMANITARIAN OUTREACH

Considered among the best of the best in their specialty, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, 1stExplosive Ordnance Disposal Company and others have added Vietnam to their list of humanitarian stops, as part of PACOMs Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA)program,* formed to assist countries in Asia Pacific. 

Not the first U.S. military involvement in Vietnam’s post-war demining efforts, but certainly the first for these Marines whose expertise is unquestionably rare, from a standpoint of skill and experience with combat- tested technology in the Middle East, where ordnance of every type has undoubtedly reached new levels of complexity – both on the ground and in the air, exploded and unexploded. 

The Marine Corps goal is to train the Vietnamese military on how to handle and dispose of UXO, using the latest demining equipment and technology, as both sides come together in a quest to rid Vietnam of its ERWs.

The issue of UXO  should not to be taken lightly by visitors to Vietnam  — even returning veterans, who want to visit former battlegrounds in remote areas.  While time has helped to heal war wounds for many on both sides, it can do nothing to soften potential damage from UXO.  I have read that 40% of the duds in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are hazardous with a 13% probability of detonation.  Cluster bombs had a significant failure rate, and there were several million dropped, especially in Laos, during that time.  The problem is definitely real, and when the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) conducts field operations in Vietnam and elsewhere, they always include an explosive specialist on their field teams. 

UXOs – SERIOUS STUFF

As the former wife of a Marine Corps jet pilot, shot down in Vietnam and still unaccounted-for, I can attest to the concerns that villagers in the rural sectors have for UXO.  When retired Lt Col Gene Mares hiked to my first husband’s crash site, deep within the Que Sons, he followed our Vietcong guide’s footsteps, never deviating from his lead, knowing that Mr. Du had made the trip many times and was very cautious .  In my case, I recall visiting a crash site outside of Saigon with VFW and VVA leadership, also following our guide’s lead, every step of the way, walking single file, before arriving at the site.  I commented on an area that looked to be off limits and was told that it was restricted because of  UXO – no one ventured in that direction.  

Helping Vietnam with its UXO problem is serious stuff and much needed.  I am very pleased that our Marines will conduct their first in-country, demining training as part of PACOMs Humanitarian Mine Action program.  I am certain that this effort will pay off in the end.

*NOTE:  PACOMs HMA Program is also being offered in Laos, Cambodia and several other countries in need of demining training.  In the case of Vietnam, winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people may also help efforts to find loved ones still unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War.  This program — and similar humanitarian efforts — mean a lot to families like mine.   Specific details relating to the HMA Program were gathered from military press releases.