When Major Dad Kills Himself

PERSPECTIVE: Survivors Struggle After Military Suicides

Widow, mother, Kim Ruocco struggled with telling her two sons the truth about their father’s suicide

North County Times
by Brigid Brett, Feb. 14, 2010

Like most other survivors of service members who have died by suicide, Kim Ruocco of Massachusetts wishes her husband would be honored and remembered for the life he lived and the contributions he made, rather than the way in which he died.

Kim Ruocco didn't know how to tell her two sons that their dad, Major John Ruocco, had taken his own life.

U.S. Marine Corps Maj. John Ruocco was attached to a reserve unit at Camp Pendleton and was a highly decorated Cobra helicopter pilot who flew more than 75 missions while deployed to Iraq in 2004. He joined the Corps in 1989 and also served in Somalia and Bosnia.

While stationed at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma, he coached baseball and roller hockey, and hunted and fished with the locals. He was the senior Marine on base and he took that role to heart, giving fatherly advice to some of the younger Marines who were getting into trouble and helping them get back on track.

His favorite holiday was Halloween, and his sons, Joe and Billy, who are now 13 and 15, loved trick or treating with him. His biggest problem was one that thousands of others serving in Iraq and Afghanistan share: an excessive sense of responsibility for too many lives, and an all-consuming fear of letting anyone down.

I learned these things about Maj. Ruocco during a phone interview with Kim Ruocco earlier this month. She told me how, when he got back from Iraq, he became increasingly anxious, depressed and withdrawn, had difficulty eating and sleeping, and didn’t know how to get help without letting everybody down.

“They’ll do whatever they can do to push those feelings down so they can still function as perceived warriors. That’s how my husband dealt with things. He was always up for the job, he gave it 100 percent. He thought he’d be letting all his younger pilots down and all his Marines down if he went to get help, because they wouldn’t deploy him. He was very good at taking care of his Marines … but not himself,” she said.

Even though Ruocco is a licensed social worker and tried to have her husband seek help, ultimately there was nothing she could do. On Feb. 7, 2005, Maj. Ruocco checked into a hotel in Carlsbad and hanged himself. He was 40 years old.

At the scene of her husband’s death, being questioned by a detective and told by a Catholic priest that her husband was “a sinner,” Ruocco had one overriding thought: “How do you tell two young boys that their dad made it back safely from Iraq after flying all these missions and then took his own life?”

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Watch CNN interview of Ruocco family:


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