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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 ‘Maj Greg Jones’

HAGEL’S PLAN MAY MEAN MORE MIA EXHUMATIONS

Monday, March 31, 2014 @ 11:03 PM  posted by Elaine Zimmer Davis
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial

Manila American Cemetery and Memorial

As family members with loved ones still unaccounted-for from past wars prepare for changes in how the US Government will speed up recoveries, there is a likelihood that more emphasis will be placed on exhumations of service members’ remains, yet to be identified, interred in America’s  24 burial grounds on foreign soil and presumably in Hawaii.  Most are located in Europe and have been a major attraction by American visitors for decades.

The U.S. military’s recent pivot to Asia Pacific generated an urgency for recoveries/identifications of MIAs in that region.  In the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, many of our WWII losses were killed in New Guinea or the Battle of the Philippines and the Allied recapture of the islands, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission — the organization that maintains our military cemeteries.  There are no American-maintained cemeteries in Korea or Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

THE BASICS

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel made it official on March 31st during a press conference, explaining that the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel  Office (DPMO) and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) are to be consolidated into one agency, of which has yet to be named.  The newly formed agency will report to a civilian, appointed by the President.

At this point, it appears that Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michael Lumpkin has assumed temporary responsibility.  Lumpkin was assigned the task of presenting a plan of how to reorganize the accounting community and given 30 days to complete the assignment.  Whoever is appointed to lead the new agency will need nerves of steel.  No date was given as to when the agency will be stood up, but it is expected to be headquartered at the Pentagon with changeover coming in weeks, according to one report.

CHANGE IN LAB IDENTIFICATIONS

JPACs Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) will no longer be the lead organization for MIA identifications.  The Armed Forces Medical Examiner will work for the new agency and be the single identification authority and oversee operations at the CIL in Hawaii, and satellite labs in Omaha, NE, and Dayton, Ohio.  It appears that most remains are expected to be identified through DNA.  The Pentagon should have the resources to ensure that all DNA is captured efficiently and quickly.  I know how hard DPMO and JPAC worked at every annual meeting and regional meeting to spread the word, but their resources were limited.

Although nothing was mentioned about the role of anthropologists, who have traditionally worked in the field and the lab, I am hopeful that they will continue to assist in the process.    Most people do not know that the CIL has earned some of the highest ratings possible in the field of forensic science.  It is in the same league as the FBI lab, and in fact has consulted over time with Bureau specialists.  The CILs certifications allow their scientists to assist with major disasters throughout the world.  The lab, under Dr. Tom Holland, has reportedly never produced a mistaken identification in 20 years.  Holland is respected on a global level, as are those who work for him at the top management levels.  It was not clear if Holland will be offered a role with the new agency.

JOIN THE SEARCH?

Few details or hardcore questions were asked of Hagel or Lumpkin by the press corps assigned to the Pentagon, namely as to how the military will fit into the newly organized agency, since JPAC is a military command.  Because the military is critical for the overall success of the accounting mission, I actually anticipate that military involvement could increase, but with the drawdown, who knows!  Even though Lumpkin’s plan calls for expanding opportunities for private search groups to get involved and a host of other ways of doing more with less, I am hoping that the government is sufficiently  concerned about liability — operations are dangerous and sometimes hazardous because of UXOs.  Plus, there can be political ramifications of sending private groups, as opposed to official groups, to global locations.  However, JPAC has been involved with a number of outside groups, and those will likely be given a larger role.  Each country has a little different type of welcome mat for teams conducting field operations.    My guess is that the new agency will be doing a lot of  internal and external policy revisions.

WORKABLE DATABASE

The agency will create a centralized database and case management system that will be comprised of all missing service members’ information.  In my opinion, this will be the biggest, most complex part of the reorganization and should reveal a lot about the difficulties that predecessors have had in working many of the cases, especially ones from WWII.

Unless officials understand that historic MIA case files from WWII need to be updated and prioritized before passing  them along to operational teams, they will be kicking the can down the road.  A good, functioning database should be able to flag those cases that are ready to go.  A word of caution — I suggest that the government be very careful not to get rid of experienced forensic analysts and forensic investigators familiar with MIA recoveries — these people can work with whomever is creating a new MIA solutions-oriented program and, hopefully, avoid the garbage in, garbage out situation.  One of the biggest advantages that could come out of a good system is the grouping of well-prepared cases to allow multiple field operations in one geographic area.  Good logistics will save money as this program becomes bigger in the near future. JPAC has worked effectively in Southeast Asia — mainly in Vietnam — using this type of model.

MAKING THE NUMBERS

It appears that making 200 identifications annually by 2015, as mandated in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, is still a go.  My assumption is that there are plans for exhumations to ensure that the goal is met.  However, I would caution about relying too much on exhumations, because there are different schools of thought about the sanctity of these graves.  But perhaps even more concerning would be the potential for exhuming remains for which there is no
DNA match.  I know that families and the general public will be eager to learn the results of these recoveries.  Most of us are more familiar with hand-overs or field operations.  It has been my understanding that many interments consist of co-mingled remains, which can be challenging to sort out, but perhaps science has now broken through most of the barriers.

TRANSPARENCY FOR FAMILIES

Hagel also noted that the new agency would provide a single point of contact for all families.  The theory is to offer easy access for learning about search and identification activities and is part of the government’s promise of transparency.  With thousands of families wanting information but not being computer literate and living in different time zones, I’m not sure how this will work but we’ll soon find out.

For those of us with loved ones still unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War, there were apparently  no sidebar conversations with Lumpkin or Hagel — at least that surfaced immediately — about the future of the detachments in Southeast Asia.  But most reporters that cover the Pentagon would not necessarily be aware of the intricacies of recovering our loved ones from the field.  However, you can bet that every Vietnam War family who has been following their loved one’s case is eager to know that the work in Southeast Asia will continue and perhaps increase.  Time is running out for recovering our MIAs in that part of the world, and I hope that Lumpkin will visit Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia ASAP to see for himself.  How large a role our government will play in future Vietnam War recoveries, versus the Vietnamese government, is likely to be a big issue down the road.

ADVICE FOR LUMPKIN

Obviously, the reorganization is in the early stages, and no one at this time is making any promises of when the agency expects to be fully operational.  The DoD will officially own this program and be responsible for its achievements and failings and, as most of us know, there are no sacred cows in this arena.  My advice to Lumpkin is that he embrace some of the long-time internal experts in DPMO and JPAC, and forget all the BS that has literally taken over the MIA program with journalists looking for the big scoop and people wanting to earn their bones — no pun intended, telling you they know the latest and greatest about historical recoveries.  It is the families that need to be convinced that the new agency is not overselling and under delivering, but prepared to keep its promise.  We want this new effort to work.

What do I think of the plan?  Guardedly optimistic, but as Ann Mills Griffiths was quoted in an article, “the proof is in the pudding.”

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