Jean-Marie J. Crocker says she won't be watching Ken Burns' documentary on the Vietnam War this week.
"I watched four episodes last week, but I think I realized it wasn't smart for me to keep on watching," said Crocker, a Saratoga Springs woman prominently featured in "The Vietnam War," Burns' 10-part, 18-hour film being broadcast locally on WMHT-Channel 17. " So I don't believe that I will watch it this week. Between my personal loss and the whole conflict, the terrible damage that it did, it's just too gut-wrenching at this point."
Crocker, 94, lost her son Denton Winslow Crocker Jr., called Mogie by family and friends, in Vietnam on June 4, 1966, the day after his 19th birthday. A paratrooper in the U.S. Army's 101 Airborne Division, Crocker was hit by ground fire in the Kontum Province and died almost immediately. The clips used by Burns and his fellow director and producer, Lynn Novick, were taken in Crocker's Saratoga Springs home back in 2011.
"After Denton was killed I began writing a memoir about how we got to this point," Crocker said. "I tried to get it published but there seemed to be a great deal of anti-Vietnam feeling out there and I couldn't find a publisher. So I donated it to the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress back in the 1990s, and Lynn came across it while doing her research about six years ago."
Novick contacted Crocker by phone in 2011 and later that year visited her Saratoga Springs home along with producer Sarah Borstein and a camera crew. Crocker did see the series in its entirety on a DVD in August and last year attended a screening of the film in New York City.
"When I saw the screening, almost two years ago now, I left after watching the second and third episodes," said Crocker, whose daughter Carol was also interviewed for the film. "I went back to the hotel and didn't see the rest of it. Ken and Lynn were very nice, very protective of me, and they prepared me somewhat for the episodes I was in, but I never had any idea I would be such a central part of the story."
Crocker had only one criticism of the film.
"To my way of thinking it was excessively bloody, but we can't deny that all happened," she said. "I thought watching the film was a very powerful experience. A lot of the history is new to us and I thought it was very well done. I think they did an incredible job. It was a privilege for me to share my thoughts, and for some of those people who participated in the film and how they opened up, well, it just took a lot of courage."
Jean-Marie J. Crocker is interviewed by WMHT producer Matt Rogowicz for the locally produced documentary, "The Wounds We Feel at Home." (WMHT)
Denton Crocker Sr. moved his wife and family from Swampscot, Massachusetts, to Saratoga Springs in 1960 to take a teaching position at Skidmore College. Denton Jr. was 10 and the oldest of four kids. Denton Jr. left school to join the U.S. Army, began his tour of duty in October 1965 and was killed eight months later. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., and his nameplate occupies panel 8E, line 6 on the Vietnam War Memorial.
Crocker says she doesn't get out much these days, so she hasn't experienced much reaction to the film and her role in it around Saratoga. She has, however, received emails and phone calls from people wanting to thank her for sharing her feelings about the war.
"A woman from Seattle, Washington, tracked me down somehow and phoned me the other day," Crocker said. "She lost a brother earlier this year and it had nothing to do with Vietnam, but she wanted me to know that what I had said in the film was very helpful to her in coping with the loss. I got an email from a person who was watching the series and what I said had helped them find some comfort. Another veteran got in touch with my other son and asked if he could speak to me and express his sympathies, but Randy told him I needed to take a little break. I am going to respond to him eventually, but Randy was right. I just need to step away for a bit."
Crocker also played an important role in WMHT's locally produced documentary, "The Wounds We Feel at Home," a half-hour film made by Matt Rogowicz.
"I did a completely different interview with Matt after he contacted me in February," Crocker said. "I watched that, too, and I thought it was beautifully done. I was happy to be a part of it, and what the other people said really moved me. It rang very true."
Rogowicz, like Novick, came across Crocker's memoir when he started researching his 27-minute film. While he didn't travel to the Library of Congress, a Google search — "Vietnam Saratoga" — led him to Crocker.
"Our film was originally going to be just voiceovers, but when I was looking for more information I called the Saratoga Springs Public Library and that's when we heard that someone from Ken Burns' team contacted them about Mrs. Crocker's story," Rogowicz remembered. "That's when we found out that Mrs. Crocker was still alive. We didn't know how much of a role she would play in their film, so we decided to move ahead with her story, knowing Ken likely wouldn't localize it as much as we could.
"Ken and I didn't share any information or material, but some duplication of photos did occur," Rogowicz continued. "When I started reading Jean-Marie's memoir, I knew from the first few pages that I would be making a documentary with this story."
Crocker, whose husband passed away in 2012, said her experience writing her memoirs and participating in the two documentaries certainly hasn't been enjoyable. But it has been therapeutic.
"That's why I started writing the memoir," she said. "I think it saved my life, so yes, it has been therapeutic and it is important to talk about it. I think the greatest tragedy of all for America is that we lost faith in our government. It endangers our country and our democracy. It makes everything so fragile, and that is really sad."
'The Vietnam War,' by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick
WHEN: Continues nightly through Thursday at 8 p.m. Will also be televised on consecutive Tuesdays on WMHT beginning at 9 p.m. Oct. 3.
'The Wounds We Feel at Home,' by Matt Rogowicz
WHEN: Will be broadcast at 10 a.m. Sunday, and is streaming at wmht.org/woundswefeelathome.