Those Who Remain: Rememembrance and Reunion After War
by Ruth W. Crocker

Elm Grove Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1-940-86300-9.
Reviewed by Mary Jo Doig
Posted on 09/02/2014

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: History/Current Events; Nonfiction: Relationships

Ruth Crocker grew up with her three brothers in a hard-working and somewhat isolated pacifist, anti-war Quaker family in deeply-rooted, historic Old Mystic, CT. She was an innocent child who attended a fundamentalist church in Quakertown with her father, who subscribed to much—but not quite all—of the Quaker teachings. (They did have a television in their home.) Meanwhile, her future husband, an inquisitive child and natural born leader, was growing up in a career Army officer's family with his three siblings, traveling the world, and loving military life. He was becoming a deeply intelligent and energetic man: an avid traveler, hiker, camper, mountain climber, and well-rounded person who was also a kind and generous human being.

When Ruth graduated from high school, her parents encouraged her to pursue her art studies at the nearby community college, so she wouldn't leave home; she acquiesced. She was an eighteen-year-old freshman when she met Dave—in his third year at West Point—on a blind date; it was, ironically, an occasion she'd tried to avoid. Although a seemingly unlikely pair, they soon fell deeply in love: the na´ve, pacifist girl and the well-traveled military man. Simultaneously and quietly, as their love story was unfolding, far away in another part of the world, huge numbers of ground troops were beginning to move into Vietnam.

Ruth Whipple and Captain David Rockwell Crocker, Jr. married on June 9, 1966 in Mystic, Connecticut, one day after his graduation from West Point. Their families were delighted and supportive as Ruth became Dave's wife and subsequently traveled with him to his first assignment as an army officer in Wildflecken, Germany. Slowly, sometimes painfully, Ruth learned to navigate the military life, no easy task in a foreign country with a new language. Soon Dave was promoted to First Lieutenant in early 1968 and reassigned to Wurzburg, Germany, a larger post; then in August, 1968, he received orders for Vietnam. Before they returned to the states, Dave took Ruth to the Swiss Alps where he showed her the breathtaking beauty of the land and the Eiger Mountain. His dream, he told her, was to return one day and climb the treacherous north face; but, for now they would do "easy" things. Their rich, treasured time in the Alps passed and soon they flew back home to prepare for Dave's journey to Vietnam.

After serving six months in Vietnam as Company Commander of the 22nd Infantry Regiment, Dave was killed on May 17, 1969 in a violent explosion while inspecting a deserted Viet Cong bunker. His shattered widow at home with her parents was 23 years old. She would reflect a week later that, "During the week that I received his ashes, more than one hundred combat deaths were reported and the drawdown of troops began. One week too late for Dave."

In her profound early grief, Ruth made a decision: she would not bury Dave; rather she would send his body to a crematorium, then take his ashes to the north face of the Eiger Mountain. She would get him far away from "...this country, this war." Then, in his casket, instead of his body, she placed their hundreds of letters, their photographs, and then covered them with her wedding dress and Dave's army uniforms. "I was young, na´ve and devastated. That's why I decided to bury all that precious memorabilia... Survival after Dave's death depended on harnessing my imagination and coming up with a way to live with an unsolvable problem; it was a stopgap solution to keep myself alive just for one day, and then the next."

When Dave's sister completed an obligation, the two left for Switzerland, There, during the long drive to Eiger Mountain, the young widow found some relief in the act of driving and reflecting. "In this part of the world I had lived as an adult for the first time and in a marriage, in my own home with a man I loved deeply; this was the place where I had ultimately grown up in a relationship to which I could never return."

For more than 40 years, Ruth never talked outside her family about her decision to cremate Dave's body and bury, instead, their precious mementoes. "That private act was my initiation into my own private grieving process." Then, in the late 1990s, Ruth experienced changes in her thoughts as she journeyed through the difficult passages of her father, mother, and then brother. She found her "monastic attitude about earlier decisions" shifting as she began seeking to unearth memories of her loved ones. Eventually, 42 years after burying Dave's coffin, she decided to exhume it and retrieve her husband's letters as well as their other treasures.

In this unforgettable book, Ruth Crocker describes an extensive and beautiful exploration of the love of two exceptional people, of sudden widowhood, of military life, of war, and of wisdom gained during her life's journey. Her remarkable memoir simply spills over with uncommon grace and insight.

Ruth W. Crocker grew up in a nursing home in Old Mystic, Connecticut. She is an author, writing consultant and expert on recovery from trauma and personal tragedy. She worked in health care administration and clinical nutriton for many years before becoming a full-time writer. Her memoir, Those Who Remain: Remembrance and Reunion After War describes her experience following her husband's death in Vietnam and how she found resources for healing. Her personal essays have been published in many journals and magazines and recognized with a listing in Best American Essays and a Pushcart Prize nomination. She is Writer-In-Residence at Riverlight Wellness Center in Stonington, CT where she teaches the art of writing memoir and personal stories. She is available for workshops, readings and public speaking. Her son, Noah Bean, is a television, film and theater actor. Visit her website.

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