May 17, 2019, marks the 50th anniversary of the death Captain David R. Crocker, Jr. in Vietnam. We were married on June 9, 1966, the day after his graduation from West Point.

Dave and Ruth Crocker, June 9, 1969. Three years before his death in Vietnam.

Each year, remembering his death on this date reverberates through whatever I’m doing. This “anniversary” is the only aspect of the experience of his loss that feels anchored in time. Each year I note the weather, then and now, and who I am, presently. I remember that in 1969 it was finally becoming spring-like and trees were blossoming, although it had been chilly in the northeast like this year. By Memorial Day, when his funeral was held, we were jettisoned into summer with temperatures in the 90s. My great-uncle wore a black suit and passed out from the heat when we gathered in the cemetery. I would have liked to have shared my secret then with Uncle Ephraim that Dave wasn’t really being buried that morning. Perhaps he wouldn’t have collapsed from sadness and the sun. Only our letters and other memorabilia were in the coffin. Dave’s sister and I would take his ashes to the Eiger in Switzerland later that summer. It was my attempt to control uncontrollable events.

Vietnam War, 1969

Capt. David R. Crocker, Jr. in Vietnam, 1969

I remember the commencement of disbelief and grief back then as I reabsorb the chain of events from long ago; the notification, the decisions, the identification of the body, the acceptance that it had really happened.  Each year since, at this time, I pay more attention than usual to my life navigation and where I’ve sailed since that bolt of catastrophe. I went to Vietnam this year in February to see the country for myself. My visit didn’t change anything for me but I’m glad I had the courage to go. The heat was intense and the scorching sun was the one element I remember from his letters.


The most important thing I’ve done in the fifty years since his death is to try to understand the experience of war and loss by writing about it. Richard Hoffman says, about writing difficult stories, that you can never entirely redeem the experience, but you can make it beautiful (human) enough that there is something to balance it. When we restore balance, we integrate our experience and find our own truth.  It becomes manageable, even coherent. Writing about this tragedy caused me to dig into understanding who I was when I married at age nineteen and how I managed the unexpected catapult into widowhood at twenty-two.

And when we tell our stories we discover others with important stories.Members of A Co. 2/22 during the Vietnam War

Among the blessings I have received over the years are my friendships with the men of A Co 2/22 Infantry who served with Dave and also hold him in their hearts. They have helped me immeasurably by sharing their memories with me at reunions over the past fifteen years. They tell stories that help me continue to feel the presence of Dave in the world. I’m not sure if time actually heals wounds, but it definitely provides opportunities to understand the wound better. Today and always, I give thanks for the healing effects of time – and good people who are willing to share their stories.

For more stories, visit Ruth at

22nd Infantry Regiment Monument

Members of the 22nd Infantry Regiment, National Infantry Museum at Ft. Benning in 2018


Ruth W. Crocker is the author of Those Who Remain: Remembrance and Reunion After War.