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

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

My husband, Capt. David R. Crocker, Jr., left for Vietnam on November 11, 1968. Veteran’s Day always brings back the memory of his early morning departure from a small local airport. This year, on the anniversary of his death in Vietnam, May 17, I published a memoir about that time in my life and the aftermath. I’m happy to say that the experience of writing this book and reconnecting with the men who served with him in Vietnam has been transformative. I have reconnected with a neglected past. The following is an excerpt from the first chapter:

Those Who Remain: Remembrance and Reunion After War



Truly nothing is to be expected but the unexpected!

Alice James (1891)


On May 17, 1969, when I was twenty-three, my husband, Captain David Rockwell Crocker, Jr., was killed in the Vietnam War.

We had married on the day after his graduation from West Point in June 1966. Three years later, after six months in Vietnam, he was mortally wounded while inspecting a deserted Viet Cong bunker. He had entered the small dark enclosure with his first sergeant along with a Vietnamese translator, and another soldier, who was a conscientious objector, carrying a bulky radio.

There are speculations about what happened next in the bunker. Possibly an unseen wire like fishing twine, strung overhead, connected to the trigger on a booby trap; probably the antenna, projecting up from the radio, pressed against the wire. The explosion sent earth, human flesh, glass, bamboo and shrapnel in all directions. Dave survived for a few hours with fatal wounds to his chest and neck. The others died at the scene.

Perhaps I was naïve to this potential consequence of going to war because I believed in peace and I thought that having such a belief would protect us like a charm. If I didn’t believe in war, how could my love be cleaved from me like this? I felt as if a guillotine had cut off my limbs. He was my source of love and adoration from whom I had learned everything I knew about being in love. How could I keep him with me after this? Could I live for both of us? I tried to inhale the vapors of his spirit from the air because I wanted to believe that he had merely been dispersed into the atmosphere. I kept looking up at the sky for a sign or a trace.

At least this is what I imagine that I was thinking back then in the dishevelment of grief.

I’m not certain that we actually can think when leveled by such tragedy. Every portion of mind and body is bundled unwillingly into a one-person rocket that blasts off for unknown territory. Every landing is undesirable because he’s not there. I was willing to go anywhere, do anything, if could sooth the stabbing pain in my heart. Less than two months after Dave’s death, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and I yearned to be up there, too. Perhaps I could feel closer to Dave again, wherever his soul was, in an air-less atmosphere. Tragedy pierces the invisible boundary around the heart and takes up residence. Grief intrudes like an invisible boulder and lodges in the chest, an unshakable reminder that someone who loved me is lost and nothing can retrieve him.

Stephen Levine says in Unattended Sorrow, that when we love someone, they become a mirror for our heart. They reflect back to us the place within us that is love. When that mirror is shattered through death or separation, we may feel as though love itself has died.

Did I change when he died? My face still bore faint scars of teenage acne, my hair was still long and blonde sweeping to my waist. My eyes were still blue. Outwardly, I looked the same but things were different now. Deep within my cells emergency lights flashed, begging for help, screaming for an exit. Tears felt like unsatisfying expressions of other more trivial sadness; a distraction from thinking. Can we really think during such a time? I believed I was thinking, and that’s what counts. My impression – that I was still able to think – is what saved me back then.

I see that slim twenty-three year old with the long straight hair, suddenly awakened from her stricken state by an epiphany. He will not be buried, she decided. He’ll be cremated. And instead, his letters – the reminders of his devotion – will go in the coffin. The funeral director agreed with her plan. This new idea gave her a sliver of hope that she could survive. She felt a modicum of control over an uncontrollable situation as she hunted through her closet, loaded boxes into her car, drove to the funeral home. No on else could know. She ran up the wooden steps for fear of being discovered and thwarted in her plan, her arms full of treasures. She entered the Victorian style parlor to lay hundreds of letters and photographs in the coffin. Finally, she covered them with her wedding dress and his army uniforms. By this time, his body was already on its way to the crematorium. The next day she stood next to the gravesite and received a folded American flag, relieved that his body wasn’t there to be lowered into the earth.

How astonishing, the mechanisms by which we help ourselves survive. Back then I wished for amnesia to save me from the pain of remembering.

(Those Who Remain: Remembrance and Reunion After War, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at local bookstores. Signed copies are available from