West Point Ring Melt

  I was honored to attend the ceremony of the Ring Melt at West Point on January 19, 2024. I donated my husband’s West Point Class ring, Class of 1966, which I’ve held onto since he was killed in Vietnam in 1969. Now, the gold in his ring will become part of rings given to the Class of 2025 and all future Class rings. As I said after dropping the ring into the cauldron, “the stone in Dave’s ring was lost long ago during a battle in Vietnam, but the ring has now come home.” A video of the Ring Melt ceremony can be viewed here.

“Write Your Story” Conference Comes to Groton, Connecticut!

            Is there a connection between writing and wellness? Where do great writers get their stories? Has anyone ever suggested to you that you should write a book? Believe it or not, these questions are related to each other. If you or a member of your family have served in the military, a great opportunity to improve your writing skills and tell your story is coming to Groton, CT on Thursday, September 14, 2023.               The Military Writers Society of America (MWSA is a non-profit organization) will hold a free workshop taught by award-winning authors from 9am to 3pm on 9/14/2023 at the Submarine Force Library &  Museum, 1 Crystal Lake Road, Groton, CT. Lunch and snacks are included, compliments of MWSA and The Rolling Tomato.               In the 1980s, psychologists and sociologists started paying attention to the fact that writing is healing and we should write about what keeps us awake at night. Or perhaps you just have a great story you’d like to share.  Writing is a powerful tool for self-discovery and healing – physically, emotionally and spiritually. Your story may help others – and it may become a book!              The seed for MWSA was planted in 1998, when Vietnam Veteran and author Bill McDonald built a website presence for his old Army unit (The 128th Assault Helicopter Company) called the “Vietnam War Experience.”  That original website began with just poetry and stories, a humble reservoir of war memories that Bill had written during […]

A Tribute to Nurses With a Spotlight on Janeen D. Porter, BSN, RN, MPH

National Nurses week begins on May 6, the day that Florence Nightingale, founder of professional nursing, went from England to the Crimean War as a nurse in 1853, and became “the lady with the lamp.” The commemoration ends on her birthday, May 12.  During these few days each year we acknowledge the excellence and dedication of those who choose the nursing profession.  I grew up surrounded by nurses in a nursing home in Old Mystic, CT that my family owned and operated in the 1950s. My mother, Estella Whipple, trained to be a Registered Nurse at Rhode Island School of Nursing in the early 1940s, and became the go-to person for many emergencies around town – cuts, burns, broken bones, head injuries, and even emotional problems. I remember my mother rushing from the bedside of an elderly resident to clean and dress someone’s bloody wound after an accident down the street. The injured would show up at the nursing home as they do today at emergency rooms, often waiting for her in the kitchen so they wouldn’t alarm the residents. Compensation for her services was the occasional basket of eggs or vegetables on the back step. Eventually, Dr. Ryley or Dr. Fowler would arrive from Mystic for those requiring bone-setting or medication. Watching my mother and her nurse colleagues in action, day after day, offered me firsthand knowledge that nurses were the original first responders, and also unsung heroines. When my parents opened a modern, state-of-the-art nursing facility in 1967 (Mystic Manor) on High Street in Mystic they also welcomed a new generation of […]

World Peace and Ice Cream along Connecticut’s Mystic River

“Ice cream! The best you’ll ever taste.”  The voice of Timothy Whipple echoed down the Mystic River along with the splash of oars dipping into the river against the current, according to my grandmother who was born in 1896. The west side of the river in Mystic, CT, along River Road opposite Elm Grove Cemetery, was thronged with women in ankle-length summer dresses and men in suits and top hats. Many mopped their brow with white cotton handkerchiefs in the sweltering August heat as children darted in and out of the crowd. The year was 1899 and the Connecticut Peace Society, a branch of the Universal Peace Union, was holding its 32th annual meeting in the same spot where they had started in 1867.  During the various speeches and conversations about world peace,  some attendees rushed to the riverbank hoping to refresh themselves with a paper cone of Timothy’s hand-churned ice cream. Timothy Whipple, a fine chef and violinist, was not only an enterprising entrepreneur but also a descendent of Jonathan Whipple, inventor of the oral method of teaching the hearing impaired, and Jonathan’s grandson Zera C. Whipple, who founded the Mystic Oral School. It was Jonathan, an ardent pacifist from Quakertown in Ledyard, CT,  who discovered the picturesque site along the river and suggested it to Alfred H. Love, head of the Universal Peace Union, as the perfect site for the meetings which drew as many as 10,000 people over three days each year.   Barnard L. Colby, former Editor and Publisher of The Day, whose 58-year career at the newspaper began in 1935, was able to interview eye-witnesses to the meetings, and reported: “…the peace […]

The Funny Bone is a Writer’s Best Friend

  Not long ago in a writing workshop, a colleague offered to read a personal essay I had written about a difficult life experience. My kind friend reported back that he felt as if I was dragging him, sad and depressed, to the abysmal end of the story.   “I don’t want to feel as if I’m being forced to feel bad,” he said. “Where’s your sense of humor? And you’re not having any fun, either.”   Humor? I didn’t see anything funny about the story of my trip to Washington, DC, to see my husband’s name on the Vietnam Memorial for the first time – but – maybe I was taking myself a little too seriously. Perhaps Colette, the French writer whose husband locked her in a room to keep her writing, was right when she said that total absence of humor renders life impossible. Humor in nonfiction writing demands taking a firm, self-confident position about our “self” and then flipping the situation upside down. Writer Leigh Anne Jasheway calls this creative misdirection; engaging readers by taking them someplace they don’t expect to go, choosing words and metaphors that make readers giggle without knowing why. She says a smiling reader wants to read on even if the topic is inherently sad.   Where was my sense of comic relief? Obviously, I had forgotten that humor creates a bond with readers and cuts down on tension and anxiety. People need to cry and laugh. Humor fosters a sense of immediacy, a close personal connection. There was little to joke about in my essay, but there were some curious ironies that I hadn’t yet dug deeply enough to discover. As Dorothy Parker said in Writers at Work, “There’s a hell […]

Fact or Fiction: It Might Depend on How You Feel

“You’ve got this all wrong. It was cold,” My brother Bob insisted. “The fiercest cold I’ve ever felt.” He pulled his arms in close to his sides and visibly shuddered even though we were standing in a hot, New England kitchen in July, 2014. He had just read a section of my memoir about my husband’s death in Vietnam in 1969. Bob is two years older than me so I couldn’t attribute his faulty memory to our relative youth back then. I was twenty-two and Bob, twenty-four, when my husband was killed. We were adults. So, why, almost fifty years later, did he recall a broiling hot day in spring as frigid? I tried a rational approach: “The funeral was on May 29th. It was almost 100 degrees that day. Don’t you remember – Uncle Ephraim had a heat stroke in the middle of it?” My brother and I are emotionally close in spite of the fact that he is 180 degrees different from me in his political views. We can argue with hammer and tongs about taxes and politics but we’ve never disagreed vehemently about the weather. It felt eerie to be debating something I’d written that was so irrelevant to the event itself. But he continued to insist; it was cold, freezing cold, that day. This dispute with him about air temperature on one of the most terrible days of my life stayed with me after my book was published and went out into the world. I wondered, briefly, what other details readers/critics might challenge and whether I should worry. I resolved that it didn’t matter if my brother thought it was cold; that this was his emotional […]

Veterans Day – Why We Need War Stories

Veterans Day , 1968, was the last time I saw my beloved husband, Captain David R. Crocker, Jr. He left Connecticut for the war in Vietnam from the tiny Groton Municipal Airport in Groton, Connecticut at 7:00am on November 11, 1968.   The first time I met the survivors of Alpha Company of the 2/22 Infantry in 2006, I was scared. It had been almost four decades since my husband died in a booby-trapped bunker on May 17, 1969. I had never heard a first- person account of precisely what happened, and I still wasn’t sure I was ready to hear the stories. But they wanted to meet me and members of Dave’s family. We had learned from their tributes on the Vietnam Virtual Wall that they cherished his memory  so I attended a reunion of the regiment in Omaha.   What was I afraid of? Perhaps simply the peeling back of the protective layer of years since I was informed of the tragedy on that warm spring day in 1969. Back then, I had avoided the nightly newscasts by Walter Cronkite. I couldn’t bear to see bloodied young men carried out of battle. Before the worst happened, superstition about what might protect my beloved governed every move I made. At age twenty-two I still believed in childish charms. “Don’t step on a crack. It will break your mother’s back.”   For many years that followed, war stories repelled me.   Real war stories are hard for both the teller and the listener.  Veterans and other survivors of war may hold back their untold stories for decades. Despite their courage on the battlefield, to describe that experience requires a reach back down into gut-wrenching […]

Is it Time to Write Your Story?

How many times have family or friends listened to you tell one of your stories and said, “you should write a book!” If you are a veteran, on active-duty or retired, or a member of a military family, there is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping you learn the writing skills to do exactly that. The Military Writers Society of America (MWSA) offers a unique (and free!) one-day workshop each year at the start of their annual conference called “Write Your Story.” This year the workshop will be held in New London, CT on Sept. 16, and followed by the conference from Sept. 17-19, 2021 Many writers have gotten their start working with the prize-winning authors who volunteer to teach these workshops and share their knowledge about storytelling, character development, how to write a scene, short story, memoir, poetry, and many other aspects of writing. How did such an opportunity to learn to write get started? In 1998, Vietnam veteran and author Bill McDonald built a website presence, titled “The Vietnam Experience,” for his old Army unit that he served with in the Vietnam War (the 128th Assault Helicopter Company). Like many soldiers, it had taken years for Bill to speak, and write, about what he had experienced in the midst of battle back in the 1960s. That original website began with some of the poetry and prose he had composed while serving in South Vietnam. Starting with his own war memories, he eventually expanded to include dozens of his comrades who had also begun to write about their experiences. The website took off. During the first six months, online traffic increased to over 17,000 […]

National Vietnam Veterans Day – March 29, 2021

Someone, I tell you will remember us. We are oppressed by fears of oblivion. Sappho (6 cent. B.C.)  

My German Winter: Notes on Surviving Uncertainty

When our plane touched down at Rhine-Main Air Base near the city of Frankfurt, Germany, the first thing I noticed outside my window seat was a multitude of vertical cranes, moving in every direction, lifting and swinging massive steel beams and lumber. It was November, 1966 and Germany was still rebuilding its heavily bombed cities after WWII. My husband, Army 2nd Lieutenant David R. Crocker, Jr., and I were headed for his first duty station in the mountain village of Wildflecken, “the little wild place.” The next four hours of travel by car would take us through thick pine forests over roads packed with snow to a remote training area within three miles of the 5K zone – the border of what was then East Germany. The cranes had not arrived in Wildflecken, yet. It had been a German Army Post in WWII and a stopping place for trains transporting displaced people from Poland during the war. This long-ago adventure in Germany came to mind as I did a mental inventory of the uncertain times in my life and how I lived them relative to how I am experiencing the uncertainties of the pandemic today. Back then in 1966, at age nineteen, and newly married, the longest I had ever been away from my family of origin was a week at Camp Aldersgate for Methodist youth in nearby Rhode Island when I was fourteen. When I departed for Germany, I didn’t realize, or perhaps I couldn’t comprehend, that the extent of my communication with my family would be limited to snail mail and a yearly […]
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