Monday, March 14, 2005

Jimmy Massey-The Healing of One Man's Soul

Q: Your feelings changed during the invasion. What was your state of mind before the invasion?

A: I was like every other troop. My president told me they got weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam threatened the free world, that he had all this might and could reach us anywhere. I just bought into the whole thing.

Q: What changed you?

A: The civilian casualties taking place. That was what made the difference. That was when I changed.

Jimmy Massey
The Healing of One Man's Soul

Jimmy Massey is a young man of Irish-American heritage, tall, fit, and straight. His eyes are clear and his voice is strong. A proud son of the mountains of western North Carolina, his twelve years as a Marine are still apparent in his physical appearance.

...How do I show you a man who has found his conscience while, at the same time, is a walking casualty of the Iraq war?

When he tells you his story, you begin to understand that he is wounded in a way that your eyes could never readily detect.

You may have heard some of his story in other reports. He's been telling audiences about his experiences for a while now. I'd decided, out of curiosity, to attend the engagement showcasing Jimmy as the featured speaker, which was sponsored by the Syracuse Peace Council. As I sat in the audience of about forty concerned citizens on a frigid late winter's night at South Presbyterian Church in Syracuse, I asked myself what I could say that was different from the others who have told you about Jimmy.

How do I show you a man who has found his conscience while, at the same time, is a walking casualty of the Iraq war?

He'll tell you what he believes without hesitation. Jimmy believes that the Iraq war has amounted to little more than genocide. That's a strong statement in today's heavily-guarded, right-wing-sentried arena of public debate, and if that statement wouldn't raise a so-called patriotic activist's defensive feathers, I am not sure what would.

Sure enough, a very small gaggle of so-called patriotic geese holding signs with predictable "Benedict Arnold" slogans (four or five individuals) was standing outside the church as the crowd came in to hear what Jimmy actually had to say last Thursday night. Not a one of those "geese" ever flew south down the stairs to actually hear what Jimmy Massey had to say. I suppose they were merely hoping that a TV camera or newspaper photographer would happen by. To my knowledge, that did not happen.

Economic Conscript

Jimmy's father was a truck driver who was shot and killed during a confrontation with the Florida State Police when Jimmy was still in his early teens. Jimmy had been lying in the sleeping cab of the truck at the time it happened. Not long after his father's death, he moved with his mother to a suburb of Houston, Texas. There were times when there was very little money and even less to eat. His mother eventually remarried.

Jimmy joined the Marines when he was down and out. As far as he was concerned, he was little more than an economic conscript. A college education, the promise of the development of the intangible traits associated with being part of the Marine Corps - self-discipline, poise, self-reliance, and honor - all these were reasons that led Jimmy to enlist, much to his mother's chagrin. He'd already learned a lot about self-reliance from his mother, who was a prison-based detox nurse. Many were the nights she would tell her son how she'd been threatened within an inch of her life by an unsettled addict. A hard worker, it must have broken her heart to have to tell her son, when he was 19, that his stepfather had lost his job and that they could no longer promise Jimmy the college education they had wanted to provide for him. Jimmy's dreams of being a dairy farmer, like his grandfather, were dashed when the Biltmore in Asheville, NC went from dairy to winery interests and, unable to come up with the costs to update the farm to code, the farm was lost.

He'd been attending community college, but had to drop out. Jimmy could have languished in New Orleans, where he'd hurled himself after he'd gotten the bad news about his family's economic troubles. A proud young man, he had a not-so-chance meeting with a Marine recruiter at a Fat City gas station ( Jimmy wanted to beg a meal off of him for the trade-off of giving the recruiter a few moments to 'do his thing' ). The recruiter convinced him that the Marines was his best option. He eventually enlisted.

The Dark Side of Recruiting

His disillusionment with the military began while he was acting as a recruiter, where he learned about the darker side of the methods used by the Marines in preying on young people from economically depressed areas.

Jimmy has been quoted as saying, "A lot of the kids joining the military are from the ‘barrios’ and ‘hoods,’ or the poor parts of the Appalachian Mountains. Appalachia has some of the poorest counties in the country—so they’re sweeping them up."
...I thought to myself,This is no disloyal American...
this is a man who is powerfully connected to the hills that he calls his American home and the people who have shared it with him.

One of my strongest recollections about seeing Jimmy last Thursday night was seeing tears well up in his eyes when he spoke about how he believes, in many ways, that as a recruiter for the Marines, he betrayed his own Appalachian people...his own blood. I thought to myself: This is no disloyal American. To the contrary, this is a man who is powerfully connected to the hills that he calls his American home and the people who have shared it with him.

Jimmy will tell you that it’s very hard to break away from the "family" of the Corps and that you have to reach down deep in your soul for answers to questions that began to come up. He began to question the recruiting methods of the Marines. He got very vocal about it, and his life was "made a living hell" for it.

There was one account of a young man named Tim Queen, who Jimmy says that he deeply regrets having recruited under pressure. Tim Queen was a mentally and physically handicapped man from Murphy, NC. Ordered by his gunnery sergeant to recruit Queen, Jimmy talked him into enlisting and going to boot camp, knowing he'd never make it in the Marines. Tim Queen is reported to have said, "I told them I had a twitch but they said not to worry about it. I spent three or four days in boot camp but they decided to kick me out."
...He said that there had been something fraudulent on nearly every one of the enlistment forms he'd ever processed.

Tim shaved his eyebrows in boot camp after dreaming a drill instructor told him to do so. Jimmy was investigated after Tim Queen's family intervened, but was exonerated by both the Marine Corps and a congressional investigation. Queen was discharged for "fraudulent enlistment." Congressman Charles Taylor's [R-NC] press office said they had been "strictly advised not to make any comment on the case.

The memory of an e-mailed photo of Tim Queen with his missing eyebrows replaced by colored-in bandaids over his eyes, covering the heinous thing he'd dreamt that he'd been ordered to do was a memory that clearly raises a feeling of guilt in Jimmy to this day. He is also haunted by all the ways he manipulated recruitment forms to promote the enlistement of many other young men who he knew would otherwise be disqualified. He said that there had been something fraudulent on nearly every one of the enlistment forms he'd ever processed.

In January of 2003, Jimmy found himself in the desert of Kuwait, waiting to move into Iraq.

The Last Straw -
The End of a 12-year Relationship


In the southern Iraq village of Safwan, just as U.S. troops had begun their march into Iraq, villagers would bring the 7th Marine Weapons Company food, tea, and flowers. Carefree children would run through fields of land mines, playfully swerving and weaving around them. A Lieutenant named Alba lost his leg in that field one day, and in doing so, gained the dubious honor of being the first casualty of the war.
...In the southern Iraq village of Safwan, just as U.S. troops had begun their march into Iraq, villagers would bring the 7th Marine Weapons Company food, tea, and flowers. Carefree children would run through fields of land mines, playfully swerving and weaving around them.

Jimmy only got shot at once. "Make no mistake," he said, "I saw my life flash before my eyes. Bullets were bouncing off the ground all around me." He was in the forward lines most of the time. His job was to scout out the enemy and provide security for the log train.

There were no actual "firefights", at least not the kind they show on cable news networks. Jimmy was shocked when he came home and saw the media's version of the so-called "firefights". It was more like "spray and pray" - if they took a shot from somewhere, they'd fire off all they could in every direction. (And when you do that, you kill innocent people, and in turn, get a lot more people angry with you.)

The Marines would give it all they had in firepower - and then would proceed to enter into an urban area, "guns-a-blazing" - like cowboys in a Western flick. Civilian cars were often targets hit by Marine air. Jimmy spoke of how, after he'd gotten back to the States, he'd heard about a recording of military pilots laughing while hitting a civilian target and it had struck a chord all too familiar in line with his own experiences.


Jimmy soon found himself at the Al-Rashid Military Complex, five miles from Baghdad's airport, where he one day observed a tank on the side of the road. About 200 meters down the road, he could see that there was a public demonstration in process. People were holding up signs and there was a presence of a Muslim cleric. They were chanting. There was no appearance of any weapons. He thought to himself, as long as they are not armed, they can say and do whatever they please. Suddenly, he heard a gunshot and does not know where it came from, but the next thing he knew all hell had broken loose. He picked up his gun and, along with other Marines, began to systematically put the demonstrators in his sights and he picked them off, one by one. He says he killed at least three of them in a matter of moments. He recalls their white jelibahs (traditonial robes) turning to blood-red.

On reconaissance, Jimmy approached the silent group of dead bodies, most of them piled on top of one another as if they had been shielding one another from the gunfire.

There were no weapons. Not one. They had killed a group of demonstrating civilians in cold blood. Most of the people were of the average age of 30, and one was a 6-year old girl.

...He is haunted to this day with the knowledge that he'd taken innocent lives.

In a previous interview, Jimmy had told a reporter that he'd noticed that there were some RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] about 200 metres away from the protestors - and that they might have come from the military compound. The demonstrators had had the ability to fire at them or at the tank, but they didn't. There was one survivor who was hiding behind a column about 150 metres away from them. Jimmy says he pointed at him and waved his weapon to tell him to get away. Half of his foot had been cut off. He went away dragging his foot. The soldeirs were all laughing and cheering.

He is haunted to this day with the knowledge that he'd taken innocent lives.

Checkpoint - The Road to Baghdad Stadium

Shortly after the al-Rashid incident, Jimmy was responsible for manning a checkpoint on the road to Baghdad stadium, where Red Zone meets Green. He knew the rules of engagement and followed them. There were hand signals given to drivers and drivers were expected to know and abide by the signals. If a driver failed to slow down, a bullet was put into the engine block to force the vehicle to stop. Jimmy recalls a red Kia Spectra with four Iraqis approaching the checkpoint.

What happened that day tortures Jimmy's conscience.

Jimmy explained that the Kia Spectra sped toward the checkpoint at about 45mph. They'd fired a warning volley above it but the car kept coming. Then they aimed at the car and fired with full force. The Kia came to a stop right in front of Jimmy, three of the four men fatally wounded and expiring rapidly, the fourth man was unscathed, but covered in blood.

The three fatally wounded men were only barely alive at the time the soldiers removed them from the Kia and placed their bodies alongside the road - without calling a medic to administer morphine for their final human pain. There were no weapons found in the Kia. Not one.

"...Why did you kill my brother?We are not terrorists. We did nothing to you.Why? Why did you kill him?"

The driver approached Jimmy. He was dressed in Western-style clothing. He had a fresh hair-cut and neatly trimmed beard. He asked Jimmy, "Why did you kill my brother? We are not terrorists. We did nothing to you. Why? Why did you kill him?" Jimmy observed the man returning to the brother he'd just lost. He saw him take his dying brother into his arms and rock him with pitiful cries of "Why? Why?"

This is the point where Jimmy says he "lost it.".

In six weeks, Jimmy had been a participant in what he classifies as his company's killing of at least 30 civilians.

Jimmy realized that, when he shot to kill most of the time, he was killing civilians. He says this knowledge is something he lives with every day.

Shortly after the checkpoint incident with the Red Kia, Jimmy was relieved of his command, slipped some Zoloft and Ambien, and was medevaced back to the U.S.

Having seven years to go before retirement with the Marine Corps, he was offered a stateside desk job. Jimmy says he didn't want their money anymore. His deep remorse had ended his days as an economic conscript.

The Marines sent him to a shrink and they tried to label him a conscientious objector. Jimmy asked them in wonder, "Conscientious objector?! Just what are you smoking?" He had been a Marine for 12 years. He had willingly gone to war for his country, no questions asked. He says that he'd supported his president, who'd told him that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat to the free world.

It was only when he voiced his concern that he no longer felt right about killing innocent civilians that they suddenly wished to label him as a "conscientious objector". Unwilling to accept the label, knowing it could have landed him in jail, Jimmy secured Gary Myers (of My Lai trial fame) as his attorney. Jimmy says the military quickly "changed their tune" when Myers came on board.

Jimmy was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD) and was given, by the VA, 100% disability with no retirement benefits.

Jimmy's writing a book, not for fame or fortune, but to simply document what he considers to be war crimes and to keep track of the places in Iraq that he knows had been directly affected by depleted uranium.

In conclusion, this is what I can tell you that may be different than some of the other stories you've read about Jimmy Massey:

Jimmy Massey believes that he sold his soul when he became an economic conscript, and now he wants his soul back. That soul has taken on the heavy-duty shrapnel of guilt and remorse. With every talk he gives to concerned Americans, Jimmy Massey says we help him to heal his soul..
bit by bit..
one day, one night at a time.


On Line Reference:

Michele Mandel
Veterans For Peace
Natasha Sulnier
Information Clearinghouse