Jimmy Massey - Healing a Soul

Jude Nagurney Camwell

Retired Marine Staff Sergeant Jimmy Massey spoke to several
Jimmy Massey's visit to Syracuse sparked significant attention, with some 500 people hearing him speak in person, and some controversy at the events and on the Post-Standard's letters page. Photo: Andy Mager
audiences in Syracuse on March 10. He was on an upstate New York speaking tour co-sponsored by SPC.

Jimmy Massey found his conscience in Iraq. He also became a walking casualty of war. Jimmy's 12 years as a US Marine are still apparent in his appearance and his mannerisms. When he tells you his story, you begin to understand that he is wounded in a way that your eyes could never readily detect.

At 19, short of funds, Jimmy dropped out of community college and joined the Marines, becoming what he calls an "economic conscript." He sought pride, income, and a college education, the "intangible traits" associated with being part of the armed services. It was to develop the further traits of self-discipline, self-reliance, and honor that he joined the Marine Corps.

Preying on Other Youth
As a Marine recruiter, Jimmy found himself preying upon youth from economically depressed areas. He has said, "A lot of the kids joining the military are from the 'barrios' or the poor parts of the Appalachian Mountains. Appalachia has some of the poorest counties in the country-so they're sweeping them up." Tears welled in his eyes when he spoke about how he believes that he's betrayed his own Appalachian people.

He carries the guilt of recruiting one particular neurologically impaired man under pressure from his gunnery sergeant. Jimmy manipulated recruitment forms to promote the enlistment of many young men he knew would otherwise have been disqualified. He said that there had been something fraudulent on nearly every one of the enlistment forms he'd ever processed.

In March 2003, Jimmy found himself in Iraq. In the forward lines most of the time, his job was to scout out the enemy and provide security. He was shot at only once. Jimmy was shocked, upon his return to the States to see the media's exaggerated version of "firefights" in Iraq. These so-called "firefights" were more like "spray and pray" .- firing off weaponry in every direction (with innocent people killed, and many more angry with the troops). He said that the Marines would enter an urban area, "guns-a-blazing" .- like cowboys in aWestern movie.

At Al-Rashid Military Complex, five miles from Baghdad's airport, Iraqi citizens were demonstrating. As long as they were not armed, they were free to say and do whatever they pleased. Jimmy heard a gunshot coming from his Marines. He picked up his gun and, along with other Marines, picked off the demonstrators, one by one. He killed at least three in a matter of moments. He recalls their white jelibahs (traditional robes) turning blood-red. Jimmy approached the bodies, most of them piled on top of one another as if they'd been shielding one another from the gunfire. There were no weapons. He and his Marines had killed innocent civilians. One was a 6-year old girl.

Facing Iraqi Sorrow
Soon after that incident, Jimmy was staffing a checkpoint on the road to Baghdad stadium. When a red Kia Spectra didn't respond to hand motions and warning shots, his troops fired on the vehicle. They killed three of the four Iraqi men inside.

The lone survivor, dressed in West-ern-style clothing with a fresh hair-cut and neatly trimmed beard and speaking English, challenged Jimmy, "Why did you kill my brother? We are not terrorists. We did nothing to you." The man returned to his brother, rocking him with pitiful cries.

This is the point where Jimmy says he "lost it." He couldn't do it anymore. In six weeks, Jimmy had been a participant in what he describes as his company's killing of at least 30 civilians. When he shot to kill, most of the time, he was killing civilians.

Jimmy was relieved of his command and medevac'ed back to the US. Having seven years to go before retirement, he was offered a stateside desk job. Jimmy says he didn't want their money anymore. Military psychologists wished to label him a "conscientious objector." Unwilling to accept the label, 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. He was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and honorably discharged on disability with no retirement bene?ts.

Jimmy is writing a book, not for fame or fortune, but to document what he considers to be war crimes and to keep track of the places in Iraq that he knows have been directly affected by depleted uranium. He believes that he sold his soul when he became an economic conscript. He's taken on the heavy-duty shrapnel of guilt and remorse. With every talk, Jimmy Massey says audiences help him to heal his soul - one day, one night at a time.

Jude is an emotional literacy and communication skills educator at Contact. She blogs at [iddybud.blogspot.com].