Eileen and Jon Rueckert
Eileen was back home in the Shetland Islands for a few weeks before starting graduate school in England, and there was a Yank in her parents’ Scalloway kitchen.
Jon Rueckert, a U.S. Naval Academy midshipman on a North Sea cruise that summer of 1961, was writing a term paper on the Shetland Bus — the resistance that local fisherman had waged against the Nazis two decades before. Jon was there to speak to Eileen’s father, Jack Moore, who repaired the boats that surreptitiously took weapons, supplies, and spies to Norway, brought refugees back to the islands, and were badly battered in battle or by the North Sea.
Jon ate every meal with the Moores and spent his free time with them, too. It always made him happy to see the smart and charming Eileen. “I liked everything about her,” he said.
Eileen liked Jon, but romance was not on her radar. “I was pretty excited about going to graduate school, down to the University of Nottingham in England. I was attracted to him, but I had so much to look forward to. I didn’t shed tears when I had to leave.”
Jon continued his Shetland Bus research in Norway, where his mother was born. He sent gifts of appreciation to all the Moores. Eileen received a brooch with blue flowers — forget-me-nots chosen by Jon to convey a sweet message, she thought.
Her thank-you note launched a four-year exchange of letters. They wrote about what was happening around the world, particularly in Southeast Asia, where Jon was by then based. They began to also share details of their lives.
“I was busy with the Navy, but getting to know her through our correspondence was just the thing I needed,” said Jon.
“I very much liked what I was getting to know about this guy,” said Eileen. “He was very gentlemanly, and very kind.”
Sailors on leave were allowed to fill any open seats on naval planes, and after many months of writing, Jon flew to England to visit Eileen. By the time he flew back to his ship, they were a couple.
In 1962, Jon was awarded the Allan F. Westcott Prize for the best research paper in naval history. “He got two prizes because he came to the Shetlands,” said Eileen. “A $250 dollar bond, and me.”
Launching a life together
Jon made two more leave visits, the last in 1964. He flew to Edinburgh, Scotland, where Eileen was a social worker, but asked that the two take a boat to the Shetlands.
Jon left Eileen in the living room to briefly speak to her parents in the kitchen. “I have your parents’ permission to ask,” he said when he returned. “Do you want to marry me?”
The couple made plans to marry in August 1965, but the paperwork that Eileen had to file so that Jon could marry a citizen of another country got lost in a typhoon. Two weeks before the date, Eileen and her mom called everyone to reschedule. Finally, that Oct. 25, the couple, their families, and 75 guests met in Aberdeen, Scotland. Jon and Eileen wed in the Chapel at King’s College, where she had earned her undergraduate degree.
Together to the U.S., around the world, and Lansdale
They lived in Brandywine, Md., when Jon, who is originally from Baltimore, was stationed in Washington. Eileen returned to Scotland and England for the year that Jon was called to serve in Saigon and on riverboats during the Vietnam War. She flew from England to New York, then to California, and on to Hawaii to spend Christmas with her husband. That glorious week in Hawaii felt more like a honeymoon than their post-wedding boat tour of fjords, which had made Eileen incredibly seasick.
They were based in London when daughter, Jackie, was born in 1969, and in Spain, when son, Glenn, arrived in 1971. They moved back to Maryland, then to Virginia and California. Finally, in 1979, Jon was assigned to the Aviation Supply Office in Philadelphia, and the family moved to Lansdale, where Jon, who is now 83, and Eileen, now 81, still live.
After he retired from the Navy in 1983, Jon worked for RCA and GE until his plant closed. During this time, he earned an MBA from Monmouth University. He then earned a master’s degree in science education at Drexel University and taught chemistry at West Philadelphia High School until retiring in 2005.
Eileen, who had stopped working after she and Jon married, became a North Penn School School District teachers aide. She retired after 18 years.
Jon dedicated much time in retirement to the Chapel of Four Chaplains in Philadelphia. In 2008, he received the group’s Legion of Honor Award.
He kept the promise made to Eileen upon their engagement that they would be certain she made regular trips to the Shetlands. Other than when COVID-19 intervened, Eileen has gone annually, sometimes with Jon, and often with their children, who have close relationships with family there.
In recent years, Jon has not been able to make any plane trips.
In 2009, the couple were helping friends prepare for their son’s wedding when Jon suffered a heart attack. His heart stopped beating.
“We’re very lucky to still have him,” said Eileen. There were lasting impacts to his body, which is why he can’t fly, and also to his brain.
“My memory has been diminished, but she fills in the blank spaces for me,” Jon said.
Jon’s recollections of the distant past are often very clear. Because his short-term memory is less reliable, Eileen manages his medications and his health appointments. She does all the driving. Because he is weaker than he once was, she takes care of their home, although she did hire someone to mow the lawn.
Sometimes, it’s hard not to be able to do more, and to see Eileen doing so much, Jon said. But, he notes, she has always done so much. When he was on a Navy ship, she had to take care of their kids and run the household solo. Once, she had to pack up and sell a house on her own, then take the children to Spain to meet him when his ship came in.
“She is so resourceful. She never gives up, and there were lots of times when we had to be really determined to do the next thing we had to do,” he said. “It’s great to have a wife like Eileen.”
Eileen loves Jon’s goodness. “He’s very kind, thoughtful, and a very sincere man,” she said, noting that Jon had taken her hand and was squeezing it hard.
“If you love somebody, taking care of them is not a hardship, even though there are moments that are hard,” she said.
And there is so much joy, such as grandsons Andrew and Bradley. They and their parents — the couple’s son and his wife, Laura, travel from Anchorage to Lansdale every summer.
Eileen and Jon thought back to their rescheduled wedding, 56 years ago this month, when her goddaughter, Claire’s wedding was postponed due to COVID. The rescheduled event happened last July, and daughter Jackie came from Chicago to stay with Jon so Eileen could attend. Then Jackie drove her mom and dad to Chicago to visit with her and husband, Jim. After so much time locked down separately in 2020, everyone enjoyed even the two, 12-hour car rides together.
When Eileen and all governments involved agree the COVID-19 situation doesn’t make flying a risk for her, she will again travel to her homeland. Their daughter will stay with Jon here, and there, Eileen will stay with her brother, Bill, who now shares the story of the Shetland Bus as a trustee of the Scalloway Museum.
It was decades into their marriage when Jon told Eileen that the blue flowers on the brooch he sent her from Norway are not actually forget-me-nots, but bluebells. He still feels grateful and lucky, he said, that her botanical mistake led to the correct assumption that he wanted her to remember him because he would never forget her.