Waynesville– Front-page stories about returning veterans tend to focus on celebratory welcomes, with little discussion of the hard facts of war. But Haywood County resident Jimmy Massey has a different tale to tell.
A Marine Corps recruiter in Sylva for three years before the war, Staff Sgt. Massey also trained new recruits during his lengthy military career. Deployed to Iraq early in 2003, he was so horrified by what he saw U.S. troops doing in the wake of the invasion that he could no longer carry out his orders.
After receiving an honorable discharge last Dec. 31, Massey returned to Waynesville. One of the few returnees to speak out, he has so far found a mostly foreign audience, telling his story via television interviews aired in Germany, France and Japan. “And all over the radio,” he recently told Xpress, “all the way to New Zealand.” Last month, the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes sent a crew to Asheville to do advance work for a segment to be taped in August.
Amid a difficult transition to civilian life, Massey got married in mid-June. Jackie Massey spoke with Xpress about her reaction to her husband’s experiences overseas. “It’s tough living with him with the PTSD [posttraumatic stress disorder], but you learn. You have to give him his space and let him work it out on his own, because I don’t really understand what happened to him.”
She continued, “He was a completely different person when he came back — completely different. It’s a learning process every day.”
Born in Pearland, Texas, Massey spent childhood summers on his grandfather’s dairy farm near Hendersonville. He has written a book about his experiences and is negotiating with publishers. “I want to use any money I make on this book to support Veterans for Peace,” Massey told Xpress. “I would like to see a VFP office in every county to help the civilian population understand what happened, the dehumanizing process, the total lack of humanity, what it does.”
He continued: “Everybody’s talking about how the 211th [the N.C. National Guard’s 211th Military Police Company, based in Clyde] came home, and we should have a ceremony. You should; you should honor these people. But then at the same time, these 211th, they need to get up and they need to talk about what was going on over there.
“A lot of ’em are scared; they’re scared of retaliation from the Army, they’re scared of retaliation from the Marine Corps. It shouldn’t be that way. We should talk about the things that happened over there, instead of hiding it.”
In reporting on the war in Iraq, the U.S. news media have been greatly constrained by explicit government censorship. Even the now-infamous photos from Abu Ghraib were cleared with the military before they were aired on 60 Minutes; foreign news media, meanwhile, have offered a far less sanitized version of the conflict.
The following interview presents a graphic view of Operation Iraqi Freedom, seen through the eyes of a local observer whose experiences there forever changed his own life.