Vietnam mystery: Why did Cpl. Jimmy Jackson vanish?

The mystery of Marine Lance Cpl. James W. Jackson Jr., who disappeared in Vietnam in 1969, is one of 1,600 unfinished stories from that era, but his story is the one that haunts Ron Martz.

Martz, an educator, writer and former staffer at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has been pursuing clues to Jackson’s disappearance since first writing about him for this newspaper in 1983.

This week Martz posted a Facebook update on Jackson, in honor of National POW/MIA Day, which is Friday, Sept. 22. The day is intended to honor some 1,600 Vietnam-era veterans who never came home.

“It is a day that will go largely unnoticed by many,” Martz has written. “But it is a day which is uniquely painful to those family members who have never had the closure that comes with giving their loved ones a final accounting and a final resting place.”

New attention has been focused on this disastrous conflict as a result of the 10-part Ken Burns documentary, “The Vietnam War.

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Rudeen Jackson, the young corporal’s mother, never had a final accounting. Though there’s a stone with the Marine’s name on it above an empty grave in a Marietta cemetery, Jackson’s mother never saw Jimmy welcomed to a final resting place. She died in 2008, never knowing what happened to her son.

The official story from the Marine Corps is that Jackson, slightly wounded during an accidental explosion on a remote hill in South Vietnam, checked into a medical facility, and then vanished.

Martz, a veteran, served in the casualty section of the Marine Corps from 1965-68, and he was sure he’d be able to track down the truth. When he first interviewed Rudeen Jackson he promised her he would provide an explanation for her son’s disappearance.

As he pursued the mystery over the years, he came to doubt the official story. Now Martz believes that what actually happened is that Jackson was killed in the explosion, and his body was mistakenly left behind on that hill.

Martz, 70, lives in Cumming. He worked at the AJC for 26 years, until retiring in 2007, then taught history and journalism at North Georgia College for several years, before retiring again.

He is a Vietnam-era Marine who served stateside, but he hasn’t watched the Ken Burns documentary on the war in Southeast Asia. He said he plans to wait until all 10 episodes have been broadcast, and then binge-watch it in one sustained marathon of TV viewing.

During the last five years he began to focus on several books he’s been writing, including one on the search for Jackson.

He’s determined to finish that search.

“I made a promise to Jimmy’s mother, and I’m trying to fulfill it, to the best of my abilities,” he said.

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